Meagan Arguien is a second year graduate student in the Bowman Research Group. She earned her BS in chemical engineering from Clarkson University in 2020. She hails from Churchville, New York.
What brought you to CU Boulder?
When I started looking at graduate schools, my interest was drawn to schools that had the prestige of well known professors in the area of polymer research. As I began looking closer at my top choices, I became increasingly attracted to CU Boulder for the professors doing research as well as the feeling of community that exists here. Boulder combines all of the top qualities I saw in other universities — interesting and groundbreaking research opportunities, driven research groups and a location that supports a ‘research-life balance.’
Aside from research opportunities, CU Boulder also has one of the most interesting surrounding areas. Choosing where I would attend during the COVID-19 pandemic meant not being able to visit any of the universities I was accepted to, so many of my decisions were based largely on word of mouth from the students I talked to during virtual visit days. When speaking with students at CU Boulder, everyone’s first comment was always “if you love being active or outdoors, you’ll love it here.” Being right on the range and waking up to the mountains every day definitely has a way of putting a smile on my face.
The other huge motivator in choosing to attend this university also came from my conversations with the students — everyone was so upbeat and welcoming. Whether people were telling me about their research or the dog park they recently went to, there was an unmatched level of excitement. People here wanted to talk about what they were doing and share all of the experiences they had, which was really encouraging to see and instantly got me engaged.
What is the focus of your research thus far? What problems do you hope to solve?
So far, my work has largely been centered around biologically compatible polymers with incorporated stimuli responsive elements. The main focus of my work has been looking at ultrasound degradable polymers. Some of the most common degradation methods include photo-initiated or chemically induced. However, these means of polymer degradation limit the applications to places where light can reach or a chemical — typically an oxidizer, acid or base — can be inserted. By using ultrasound degradation, targeted areas of the body, locations within solid components and various otherwise unreachable places can have a polymer component that will degrade without detracting from the exterior shell or any non-degradable units within the polymer itself.
What attracted you to the MSE program?
The unique interdisciplinary nature of this program is really what grabbed my attention. Rather than being limited to professors in one branch of the university, the MSE program has allowed me to spread out a little more — providing me with more opportunities to broaden my understanding of not only my research project but also the projects others are doing.
How has the program benefited your research?
Much of my experience with the MSE program so far has been with the entrance into the program and the initial steps in graduate school. It has definitely been apparent from the beginning that this program is committed to helping us achieve our goals — largely by encouraging networking between students, professors and lab groups. For my research in particular, this encouragement has helped to build bridges leading to new possibilities for analysis and applications for the materials I am working with. The MSE program definitely feels like a place where you can get as much out of it as you put in, if not more, which is exciting to think about for my upcoming years in this program.
How do you strike a balance between your work as a student and your personal life? Does the program allow for that?
This was one of the key elements I looked into when deciding what graduate school I wanted to attend — did professors encourage a work-life balance that students took advantage of? I’ve always thought that your brain needs a break, no matter how dedicated and engaged you are in your work, both to keep a rounded personality as well as to have new or off the wall ideas when you reboot your brain. There may be times that I need to run a reaction over the weekend for the convenience of having a large space to myself, but I chose a lab where I know that it isn’t expected of me to be in the lab seven days a week.
I think the MSE program in general really encourages that we as students get together and engage with one another outside of our field of study — often this is through picnics, group hikes, coffee hours, or the like. From my experience, this has really helped to connect students from various years of the program.
Why might you recommend MSE to students considering a graduate program in science and engineering?
I think the MSE program is perfect for multidisciplinary study. Since beginning research I have been able to do chemical engineering, organic chemistry, biomolecular and material characterization geared work all under the MSE umbrella. In choosing a particular program I knew I wanted to have access to all the disciplines available here so that I could do research with wide ranging applications that would be useful to more than just those in a very small area of study. By having connections through the MSE program all over campus, I am able to reach out to other professors in disciplines I am not as familiar with to do collaborative work, allowing me to go further with my research.
Where might you want to go next?
For the longest time, I have been interested in continuing research after I finish my PhD. Whether this leads me to working in a lab or in academia I am not sure, but I have always loved teaching and interacting with students which might push me closer to academia. At this point I know my PhD won’t close any doors for me and I thankfully still have a fair amount of time to figure out what my exact path will be.
What do you do for fun or in your spare time?
Boulder is an amazing place to have spare time when you can find it as a grad student! I am definitely an ‘outdoorsy’ person — and most of the time I spend outside I spend with my dog. Before moving to Colorado, I was an avid hiker and I have continued that since moving here, starting easy with some hikes right out of some local parks and then moving to some 14’ers and overnight range hikes. Between hikes, I also really enjoy running and have gotten involved with the club crew team here at CU so that I can continue rowing, which is something I did at my undergrad university.
Aside from being outdoors, I also really enjoy cooking and baking, two things that really fed my love of chemistry and that I wind up doing daily as a means of stepping out of my research completely. This is also true of reading — I always have at least one book I’m in the middle of because I find them to be a way to slow down and achieve the total gear switch for my brain that allows me to return to research the next day with an excitement to ask the next set of questions.
What is your favorite film(s), book(s), sport(s) or other media-related interests, and why? Do your interests in art, literature, and cinema have an influence on your research and goals as a materials scientist?
I love reading books that take me into the world of the main characters — for this reason I don’t have a favorite author or series. More often than not I find myself drawn to science fiction, historical fiction, adventure or old mystery novels because of the descriptions these books offer early on that allow me to immerse myself in the story. Some of the books that I could always pick up and read at any time include The Hobbit, Ringworld and One Second After — all very different novels but all written in such a way that I as a reader have most of the details but my imagination is left open to build elements of the story on my own.
I think that my interests in literature, wanting to have the ability to expand my imagination and test the limits of the world I can create in my mind with only the words of an author, does reflect my work as a researcher. Constantly in research you have to be able to ask the new questions and push past the invisible boundaries to imagine what could be so that new discoveries can be made, big or small. You may know what the overall goal of your research topic is but you have to fill in all the pieces along the way, kind of like how I picture a book as a template for the story that you get to create in your mind.