Aspiring Physician-Scientist Kenedi Lynch on Balancing Her Multiple Scholarly Pursuits

January 31, 2024

President Tate and Kenedi Lynch


In this episode of "On Par," meet the LSU student who's in a league of her own: scholar student and undergraduate researcher, Kenedi Lynch. Kenedi is a senior in the Ogden Honors College. She is a 2023 Goldwater Scholar and Astronaut Scholar, as well as a Stamps Scholar. She's the president of LSU's Research Ambassadors and the President of Alpha Epsilon Delta, the pre-medical honor society on campus. Find out how she balances it all and what she still hopes to accomplish as a future physician-scientist. 


Kenedi presented her research to President Tate at an LSU Honors College event.Kenedi traveled to Guatemala on the LSU Global Brigades Medical/Dental Chapter trip, where the group volunteered in and staffed a rural clinic.Kenedi and other LSU Honors College students on their London and Edinburgh Study Abroad trip visited Oxford.Kenedi presented research at the Astronaut Scholars technical conference.

Kenedi presented research at the end of her REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Amgen Scholars Program).Kenedi and her family at an LSU Family Weekend tailgate.

Full Transcript



[00:00:00] William F. Tate IV: Welcome to On Par with the President. Today we're meeting with an undergraduate researcher, Kenedi Lynch. Kenedi is a 2023 Goldwater Scholar, an Astronaut Scholar, a STAMPS Scholar, the president of the Research Ambassadors, the president of Alpha Epsilon Delta and a senior in the Ogden Honors College. You decided to major in the biological sciences. Why, why that, why that degree program? 

[00:00:28] Kenedi Lynch: Yeah, so I've always known I wanted to be a scientist since I was like very little. There's photos of me at like two in a little lab coat and a stethoscope. Very cute. But I kind of vacillated in high school about what subject that I wanted to study.

[00:00:41] I originally was like really into chemistry in high school, but as I progressed to like the more upper level advanced chemistries, I realized that, that wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do, but I enjoyed my biological sciences classes. I really like understanding like the puzzle of biological systems and how they interact with each other, especially in the context of the human body. So I decided to give that a try when I came here and it stuck. I really enjoy the courses and the professors and it's just been what's really felt right since I got here. 

[00:01:15] William F. Tate IV: Now I've read you've decided to pursue the MD-PhD once you complete your undergraduate studies. What led you to that decision of the dual degree program in medicine and a researcher as well. 

[00:01:28] Kenedi Lynch: I always knew I wanted to be a scientist. I knew I wanted to be a physician from a very young age, but, um, in high school, I really did not have any type of exposure to research and it like, wasn't even in the back of my mind, like, as a possibility, as a career that I could pursue. But as part of my academic scholarship here, I have the President's Future Leaders in Research stipend, which is basically work study that allows you to, um, complete research in a lab with a stipend funded. And so I decided I wanted to give it a try just to explore all different avenues of, like, industries that I could go into.

[00:02:06] And I really ended up enjoying it. I liked figuring out the processes behind the issues that I'll be hopefully working to solve in my future career as a physician. And so I started looking into more of how I could combine those two tracks of being a physician and being a scientist. And I learned of, like, the physician scientist track, the MD-PhD. So that's really been something that I've been focused on doing since, uh, I really started getting into it my sophomore year. 

[00:02:36] William F. Tate IV: So research has been a big part of your LSU experience. What specific research are you working on now or during your time here and how has that impacted you sort of as an intellectual and a person?

[00:02:49] Kenedi Lynch: Right now I am currently doing my honors thesis and it's a pilot study on, um, how to. . . the end goal, eventually, is how to diagnose cerebral malaria in birds. The project that I'm specifically, um, focusing on right now has to do with differential cytokine expression in the brain, and we're gonna end up correlating that with, uh, cytokine expression in the blood. We have a whole bunch of other prongs of the project, but that's kind of what I'm focusing on now. Um, I've also done a couple of outside research experiences. I was chosen to do the Amgen Scholars Program and got to go do research at Johns Hopkins Medical School for a summer, which was a really amazing experience.

[00:03:32] It's, um, a biotech focused internship. And so I was doing some really cool work there, helping develop sensors for, um, to eventually be used to help detect how much of an antibiotic is in someone's blood called Vancomycin. It's kind of toxic. Um, you don't really get prescribed it unless you have like a really bad infection. So, there's just some pitfalls that come along with that. And, um, yeah, I've kind of just, like, developed this track of focusing on infectious disease. 

[00:04:01] William F. Tate IV: You mentioned you're doing an honors thesis. What made you decide to do that? I mean, you could obviously graduate without doing that. What led you to wanting to do the thesis?

[00:04:11] Kenedi Lynch: As a Stamps Scholar, we're very strongly encouraged to do one. Um, I was really interested in doing one anyway, just because I thought it would be good practice for, um, eventually when I go into the PhD program and have to write a dissertation. Um, I think the thesis is a really good chance to practice more independent research and get a better sense of outside of like your lab courses and stuff which are helpful, but not necessarily entirely super specific and like realistic to what the writing process and the independent research process is by yourself to complete like a project that, you know, you're in charge of and you're over and you're doing all the work for. So I thought it was a really good chance to grow those skills. 

[00:04:56] William F. Tate IV: Now you mentioned the Stamp Scholarship. You are a true scholar in every sense of the word. You've received many impressive scholarships. If you had to help someone understand the attributes associated with being successful and pursuing these various scholarships, what would be two or three things you would give to someone who might be aspiring to compete for these scholarships?

[00:05:20] Kenedi Lynch: One I would definitely say is persistence. Um, these fellowships and these like REUs and stuff, they're really competitive and it's . . . You don't always, you know, get it on the first try. I applied for the Goldwater my sophomore year and ended up being like a university finalist, but didn't end up getting the award. And I was like really disappointed. I, like, thought I had put forth a pretty good application, but I just went back to the drawing board and really worked hard to revise my application for the next year and made sure I was applying for those competitive REUs to have a project that might be more independently driven and, uh, more innovative and things like that.

[00:06:01] Um, but yeah, I, I definitely, if I'd like given up after the first time, I wouldn't have been able to go on and do those things. Another one I would say is just, self confidence. I think, especially in the STEM field, it's really competitive. There's a lot of people doing a lot of cool things. I mean, like, I can look in any of my classes and there's literally just so many amazing people who are doing, like, insane things that you hear, like, written about literally at LSU, like, in the newspaper. And it can be intimidating at times. And I think it's easy to, like, talk yourself out of going for things because you feel like you're maybe not qualified enough. But I always tell people, I always say, shoot your shot. Like you never know if you're going to be able to achieve something if you don't put yourself out there and try and put forth your best effort.

[00:06:48] William F. Tate IV: Those are two good ones because in science, you have to be persistent. You can't give up, right? I mean, that's part of the deal. I love that. Now, you hold leadership roles as well. You're the president of the LSU Research Ambassadors. Talk about what that entails. What exactly do you do and how has that informed your particular career goals?

[00:07:11] Kenedi Lynch: The Research Ambassadors is a club that's kind of nested under LSU's undergraduate research office, LSU Discover. And, uh, basically what we do is, it's a group of people who have already been involved in research for at least a semester. And we go around and we raise awareness on campus of different research opportunities that people have, that people can get involved with. Um, we give talks, we help, um, volunteer and like help run Discover Day, which is LSU's big, um, like undergraduate research symposium. We offer, like, one on one help for students who are trying to get paired with a research, research mentor, give class talks, things like that. I got involved with that really early.

[00:07:53] Um. I think I joined my freshman year, my second semester because I'd been doing research the first semester. And I really just wanted to help people get involved and learn of the opportunities, because I knew that I hadn't had that exposure in high school like I was talking about. And since I came . . . since I entered college at the beginning of COVID, it was really hard for me to find a research position initially. I had initially had a job lined up with another professor and wasn't able to work for him because of like COVID restrictions in the lab and all that stuff. So I wanted to be able to help people have an easier route in, like, getting their foot in the door than I did. And I think it's a really beneficial club. I have personally matched like so many undergraduate students, um, even just like in my PSY 1001 classes, um, with research opportunities. So it's a very fulfilling and worthwhile club, I think. 

[00:08:44] William F. Tate IV: What inspires you to do all this kind of work in the biomedical sciences? Because you're doing research, you're teaching, you're a leader. What, what's the, what, what drives you in all of this? 

[00:08:56] Kenedi Lynch: I would definitely say I've always been super intrinsically motivated. I've always, uh, been a high achiever and wanted to do different things to succeed. I think I also just kind of have a natural curiosity. I've tried out a lot of things here at LSU, and I've stuck with what has worked well for me and what's made me, like, excited and passionate about doing things. I think there's also an influence of, there's, like I was saying, are so many people here that are doing amazing things and, like, you can't help but look around and be inspired by those people, by fellow Stamps and Presidents alumni scholars, by other students in the Honors College, by people in the College of Science.

[00:09:36] Um, so I think seeing other people get those awards and do all these cool research things definitely pushed me to put myself out there and try those things. And it's what I've ended up loving and so I stuck with it. 

[00:09:49] William F. Tate IV: So you've mentioned you want to be in medical education, which is really sharing with people who might aspire to be in the field. What do you think the role is of a scientist or, or science leaders to making information more accessible to the general public and more broadly to various audiences, um, that exist in society? 

[00:10:12] Kenedi Lynch: You can make an amazing discovery, and it's really of no use unless you can share it with the global community around you in digestible terms that everyone can understand. Um, I think that's become like a bigger thing recently in the scientific community is pushing for scientific education with the general public and how to, how scientists can make their work more digestible for everyone. Um, I know one thing that we just did with AED that's kind of along that track of, Alpha, Alpha Epsilon Delta, excuse me, the pre med club, is we had like . . . I, I started a cultural competencies in medicine series this year and one of the events that we had was a seminar from a medical student who started a company that is all about increasing health literacy in underserved communities.

[00:11:04] Um, and one thing that they do is, um, they make, like, medical diagrams for, like, procedures and, like, making, uh, instructions for, like, taking medicine and things like that so it's more understandable for the general public. So I think it's really important that people keep pushing towards those initiatives, um, because you have to be able to share your experience with everyone.

[00:11:29] William F. Tate IV: Now, you have many school responsibilities or volunteer work that you have contributed to, but you also work as a recovery coordinator for the Baton Rouge Regional Eye Bank. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that work is about and what got you involved in that? 

[00:11:46] Kenedi Lynch: It's been a really great opportunity. I learned of it through AED when I was a sophomore in their like, subcommittee. And they came and gave a talk about their mission and what they do and they were hiring and I ended up applying and got hired, which was really great. My job as a recovery coordinator is I work with local physicians, nurses, other medical staff to help facilitate the recovery of corneas or eyes for transplantation or medical research or things like that. Um, I'm not the person who's physically going to recover. We have technicians that do that and they're super amazing, but I have to like review patients medical histories and things like that to make sure they're an eligible donor, uh, coordinate with the state agency, um, sometimes speak to the families and obtain consent and things like that.

[00:12:35] So I think it's a really fulfilling job. It can definitely be tough at times, uh, just because of the nature of the work, but it's really inspiring to see how selfless people can be in, uh, allowing their loved ones, um, gifts to go on and help other people live a better life and a more fulfilled life. So it's, it's very inspiring to see the kindness of people every day in that job.

[00:12:58] William F. Tate IV: So now we've talked about what you do on campus, off campus, and your future goals, but if we're dreaming today, what do you hope happens for you in your future medical or research career? How would you, how would it stack up if it was, like, happened just the way you wanted it? 

[00:13:16] Kenedi Lynch: Yeah. So I'm taking a gap year after I graduate and I currently have my hat in the ring for a couple pretty big fellowships, um, so hopefully, fingers crossed I get those. If I do end up getting those, I'll be going do research on tuberculosis for a year in Scotland at the, uh, University of Edinburgh, um, at the Roslin Institute. So, I really hope that pans out. Um, and after that, I, I plan on applying this cycle for medical school. So, I, like I said, I worked at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine about two summers ago. I would absolutely love to be there. Um, I would also love to be back in Texas. Um, I'm from Houston. It's a really vibrant medical community and a really big medical center. Um, but yeah, I, I try and keep my goals kind of short term for where we're at.

[00:14:10] William F. Tate IV: Well, it makes sense. You know, you've got to get into one of these programs. So looking ahead, you want to get an MD-PhD. You want to work on clinical trials. You've been a little vague about what specific area. And you mentioned infectious diseases. Is that something you think you want to continue to pursue? Or, I mean, I would love to get into how you're thinking about this because so many people I think would aspire to be where you are right now and maybe helping us jump just a little bit beyond your three to four year window. You know, we're dreaming here. 

[00:14:50] Kenedi Lynch: Yeah. Um, well, I'm planning to get my MD-PhD in, uh, the PhD side in microbiology and immunology.

[00:14:57] William F. Tate IV: Got it.

[00:14:58] Kenedi Lynch: So I think with this gap year, I'm still trying to figure out what specific area that I want to work in and what diseases that I'm like most interested in. Um, I'm really kind of thinking of pursuing vaccinology. Right now that's something that I've had on my mind and that research that I would be doing if I do get accepted to, uh, those programs in Edinburgh would be, um, researching the underlying mechanisms of natural killer cells and, uh, their role in the response to the, uh, tuberculosis vaccine, which is, there's only one vaccine for tuberculosis currently and it's like really old. 

[00:15:33] Um, but yeah, I, I think that there's a lot out there and I'm definitely still trying to figure out my niche. You know, in, in grad school you get to do rotations and kind of figure out what faculty you're doing, what projects and what is more interested to you. So, um, yeah, that's, that's kind of my current thoughts. 

[00:15:53] William F. Tate IV: So you've been very active as a student, volunteering in the community with community service, um, as a researcher and as a leader. Um, what advice would you give college students who aspire to have that kind of experience? How, how do you balance it all and still enjoy, you know, just enjoy the day to day. How would you do that? 

[00:16:20] Kenedi Lynch: Yeah. So I think I'm lucky in that a lot of my friends are also doing really similar things. So I have a support system and you know, my family's like super great and very supportive, um, that understands what it's like to be in that kind of hectic, hectic schedule. So, I think it's really about planning out your time properly and making sure you're taking time for yourself. I mean, me and my friends will find, like, a little hour that we don't have something to do and, like, maybe go play, like, racquetball at the UREC or something like that. I think how I unwind personally is just being around my friends and the people that I love.

[00:16:54] So, I mean, we could be watching a TV show. We could be taking a run in the park, something like that. That's how I unwind personally. So yeah, I would definitely say, make sure you're managing your time correctly and planning in those times to do something fun or just like lounge in your bed or on the couch or something like that, so you don't burn out. 

[00:17:15] William F. Tate IV: Burnout is not good. 

[00:17:17] Kenedi Lynch: No.

[00:17:17] William F. Tate IV: I agree. Imagine now that you're standing in front of a set of 17 year olds who are making a decision about where they want to go to college and somebody asks you, you know, why should you attend LSU? Why should we attend LSU? What would you say? What would be your response?

[00:17:39] Kenedi Lynch: I think there's really something for everybody here. I personally like that it's a really big school. You have the opportunity to, you know, go and be a part of these, like, smaller niche communities. There's so many like academic opportunities here, which I feel like people overlook a lot, um, with any school in the SEC, honestly. Um, but there's also so many opportunities to have fun. There's so many clubs on campus. There's so many amazing athletic programs here that you can go out and support. There's beautiful parks. The campus is very beautiful. So, I think that there's something for everyone just because of how big the university is and you can definitely find your community and something that fits your niche interests here.

[00:18:25] William F. Tate IV: Well, Kenedi, you represent the very best of LSU students. And it's really an honor to talk to you. I can't wait to see where you end up going for your MD-PhD, um, because I know you're going to get in one of those programs. 

[00:18:40] Kenedi Lynch: Thank you. 

[00:18:40] William F. Tate IV: And I know you're going to do great research and, you know, thank you for taking the time to talk to us on On Par with the President. You are definitely not on par with the president. You are a definite eagle. You are a star and it's just really a pleasure to talk to you. And I wish you the very best going forward. 

[00:18:59] Kenedi Lynch: Thanks so much for having me. It's been an honor to be here.