CBS Alum Takes Passion for Research to the Genome Center

Majken Horton headshot
Majken Horton (BS '22, Genetics and Genomics) participated in the Young Scholars Program, which is administered by the School of Education and engages high school students in hands-on research in the laboratories of UC Davis faculty.

CBS Alum Takes Passion for Research to the Genome Center

Genetics and genomics major an alum of School of Education's Young Scholars Program

Growing up, Majken Horton (pronounced MY-ken; B.S. ’22) always wanted to know how things worked. She’d study the property she lived on with her parents in Loomis, Calif., and spend summers exploring Alaska with them. Her parents, both UC Davis alumni and salmon biologists, encouraged her to investigate the tiny ecosystems she found and look them up in books to learn their ways.

“I was very, very into the scientific method,” said Majken. Fast forward to now, and she’s “grown a lot in understanding what we value as research, and how we value it,” and works as an academic researcher in the laboratory of Luca Comai, a professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Genome Center. She credits a big part of this growth to her participation in the UC Davis School of Education’s Young Scholars Program (YSP).

YSP is a summer residential research program designed to introduce about 40 high school students each year to the world of original research within the fields of the biological, agricultural, environmental, and natural sciences. But when she was a rising junior in high school, Majken had to be convinced to apply. 

“I refused to leave my friends for a summer,” she said. Ultimately, though, her lifelong curiosity won out. “I wanted to know exactly what it was to be a researcher,” she said, “and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

While in the program, she worked with in the laboratory of Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar, a professor and chair in the Department of Plant Biology, where she studied plant immune systems. The reality check about the challenges of research came swiftly.

“I didn’t understand how many papers researchers have to read,” she said. “I thought all the stuff would be tiny and cute — which is true. The tubes are very cute. But I was lacking knowledge of, in practical terms, what research is like day to day.”

Majken and her cohort of Young Scholars, which included international students, a first for Majken, also connected with college student mentors and took midterm and final exams. They lived in dorms and got an early taste of college life. When she enrolled at UC Davis as an undergraduate, she felt she had a leg up because of that experience. “The sooner you get into research, the better,” she said, “and the same goes for building relationships on campus.” As an undergraduate, she majored in genetics and genomics and minored in gender, sexuality and women’s studies.

When it came time to search for a job and a graduate school, Majken returned to her YSP experience. Her hands-on time doing research in a lab setting at a research university is special, and she knows it.

“When I write my resume, I always start with YSP,” she said. “I know that having that foundation is a very important building block, and when I complete applications in the future and when I talk about my career, it will start there.”

Not surprisingly, Majken is an enthusiastic advocate for the program.

“I wish everyone who wanted could do it,” she said. “I want to be a support for new pre-college researchers who are exploring their career ideas. It’s important to me because I had awesome people in my life who could support me in that way.” That includes her mother, Jennifer Horton, (BS ’91, MA/Cred. ’06).

With the generous support of donors, YSP has been able to provide financial assistance to help overcome cost barriers. Majken herself received a scholarship fee-waiver, and her last piece of advice to would-be YSP scholars is simple – just apply!

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