“Differential Ablation of Sensory Receptors Underlies Oxytocin-Induced Shifts in Auditory Thresholds of the Goldfish (Carassius auratus).” This is the title of senior Gordon Michael Selckmann’s recent publication in the Journal of Applied Toxicology (JAT). While other Biology students at the College have been published in science journals before Mike Selckmann, his journey to this point in his academic career is one of perseverance, dedication, and much hard work.
Entering the College in the 2006-2007 academic year, Selckmann found his beginnings as a basketball player on the varsity team under coach Chris Harney. While staying on the team for his first two years, Selckmann performed relatively well in the sciences before taking a stronger interest in the research side of the College’s Biology program.
“Basketball…required a lot of time…as did biology,” he said. “You can give 110 percent all the time, but split between two passions and you’re still bound to fail both.”
In summer 2008, before his junior year, Selckmann contacted animal physiologist and assistant professor of Biology John Ramcharitar for a position in his ichthyology (fish-studying) lab on campus, looking for science experience outside of the classroom.
“Simply put, I’ve been a fisherman all my life,” said Selckmann. “I heard that there was a professor from Trinidad that dealt with fish, so I simply struck up a conversation. Just seemed like a good fit for me.”
Not knowing him well as a student, Ramcharitar asked other College professors about Selckmann, including Biology professor Bill Williams. “I think he’d do very well working in your lab,” said Williams to Ramcharitar in an email correspondence. “He’s a good student…[and] he’s very tall.”
Leaving behind his place in the basketball team, Selckmann began working in Ramcharitar’s lab the following semester, studying the anatomy of the dendritic arbors that branch from nerve cells for Fall 2008 and Spring 2009. During the study, Selckmann combined his scientific understandings with his talent for illustration, important for the comparative study he was conducting.
But working in Ramcharitar’s lab taught Selckmann more than how to fine-tune his lab abilities, as a busy schedule forced him to stay on top of things. “I used to get up at six or seven every morning and work until my 9:20 or 10:00 classes,” he said. “It was a great way to wake up…and I started scheduling better in my classes as well as in lab.”
Though it was his first lab experience, Selckmann was able to gather enough data to put together a poster presentation for the XXXVI International Congress of Physiological Sciences, scheduled to be held that year in Kyoto, Japan. However, a conflict arose in terms of funding for the trip, which would have to cover airfare and living expenses during Selckmann’s stay in Kyoto. “We were hoping to get a travel award to send Mike to Japan,” said Ramcharitar, “but that didn’t come through.”
Rather than attend an alternative conference, Selckmann’s family stepped in to help with the funding for the trip, covering travel costs to get him to Japan. With the support of his family and year-long work, Selckmann gave his presentation during the conference, titled “Dendritic Arborization of the 8th Cranial Nerve of Teleost Saccular Sensory Epithelia: A Comparative Study.”
In the same summer of his trip to Kyoto, Selckmann continued research with Ramcharitar, beginning a side project on ototoxicity in goldfish. Goldfishes have inner ear structures comparable to those of humans, making them valuable for ototoxicity studies. “I worked on Sciaenids and watched other people in lab work with goldfish,” he said. “I asked enough questions and got pretty good at dissections that I was allowed to help.”
In his research, Selckmann found that gentamicin, an antibiotic used on humans for bacterial infections, destroys sensory receptors responsible for hearing, altering auditory thresholds of the inner ear. After gathering enough data with the help of seniors Cody Brack, Sophia Traven, and Mary Smist, Selckmann presented his data in 2009 at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago, IL.
“[The lab team] worked extraordinarily fast and [Dr. Ramcharitar] constantly reminded me that he was holding us to a fast pace,” said Selckmann, “but I really enjoyed the focus and long hours that I could sink into my work.”
After continuing his research under Ramcharitar, Selckmann gathered enough data in his own studies to co-author, with his mentor, the ototoxicity paper now currently in its early publication stages.
“[Mike] over the last two years has made tremendous strides in his academic development,” said Ramcharitar. “Mike is now looking at options for graduate school, and he has a lot of potential in the fields of environmental studies and biomedical research.”
“I’ve seen how much he’s changed over four years,” said Director of Instructional Support Elaine Szymkowiak. “I think he really got excited and took off with his work with [Dr. Ramcharitar].”
Selckmann completed his St. Mary’s Project in Biology on this former research, titled “An investigation of the teleost sensory saccular epithelia: cranial nerve arborization and innervations of the sciaenid saccule sensory epithelia,” and will be presenting on Tuesday. “It shows that instructors shouldn’t just focus on top-of-the-class kids,” said Ramcharitar. “If a student is competent and willing, they may just need the correct mentoring to really reach that potential.”
Graduating with the Class of 2010, Selckmann plans to continue working with fish in his post-College career. “I have a summer job…over at [the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory] in Solomons working on rockfish,” he said. “I’m also applying for some grad school programs. No matter what, I want to stay around fish and the environment.”