Grad Student Spotlight: Kat Lazenby


Kat is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Awardee. Information about this fellowship is linked below.

Kat grew up near Spirit Lake, Iowa and attended high school and college in Mitchell, South Dakota. She had two high school STEM instructors who held doctorate degrees, but were also gifted in making science interesting and accessible to their students. Kat had the opportunity to take upper-level courses under their tutelage, and they inspired her to pursue a STEM track in college.

She went to Dakota Wesleyan University to study biochemistry. She studied on a professional track, but did not consider graduate school until her senior year when advisor Dr. Bethany Melroe, a former classmate of Dr. Nicole Becker, encouraged Kat to participate in a scientific education outreach program, which included a research component. This project inspired Kat to pursue Chemistry Education research as a graduate student.

Kat’s research with the Becker group seeks to understand how undergraduate chemistry students think about chemical models, including their understanding of where these models come from, why they are used, and why multiple different models are often presented to describe the same phenomenon. She uses qualitative surveys of University of Iowa chemistry students, primarily in Principles of Chemistry I. The Becker group’s most recent data set included responses from 800 students to 30 open-ended survey questions.

In 2018, Kat was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program fellowship, a highly competitive fellowship which is awarded to graduate students showing the potential for significant achievements in their research. With the support of this three-year fellowship program, Kat is creating her own survey, which will be offered in multiple-choice format. A quantitative analysis approach offers a couple of advantages over the qualitative approach – it is easier for instructors to use and the data can be processed much more quickly – the analysis on a large open-ended survey can take up to a year and a half to complete.

Kat would like to remain in academia after obtaining her PhD, which she pursues while also working on a master’s degree in educational measurement and statistics. She envisions herself in a career that allows her to integrate teaching and assessment.

She offers the following advice to new graduate students: it’s easy to compare yourself to others and to feel discouraged when you see others making progress, but don’t necessarily feel you’re making that kind of progress yourself. But instead of constantly making those comparisons, try to remember that everyone has different goals, different obstacles, and different paths toward achievement. You may see colleagues making great achievements, but you won’t necessarily see the struggles and the failures they had to face in the path to success. Instead of comparing yourself to those around you, focus on your own journey, and be patient with yourself along the way.


Our graduate students make a difference! Additional Graduate Student Spotlight pieces are linked here.