How Do You Succeed in Sports and Science?

You wouldn’t think there were any similarities between playing golf and conducting research in a biochemistry lab, but you’d be wrong. Both require a great deal of patience, focus and detail, and if one thing is out of whack, it compromises the end result. These similarities aren’t lost on junior Maria Perakis, who’s a member of Bradley’s women’s golf team and studies biochemistry.

She spent her summer as a research intern for Arijit Sengupta, associate professor of chemistry. For the past year, he’s been trying to synthesize a polymer with antibacterial properties as an alternative to antibiotics. Perakis and three other students tested different polymer products in different concentrations to see if they can effectively kill bacterial cells.

“The experiments required a lot of focus because I was working in microliter amounts,” she said. “I’m filling up this plate that has 96 little circles in it, so I have to keep count and make sure I’m doing everything correctly. If I’m not confident that I did the experiment with a steady hand and in a good manner, I can’t really trust the results.”

Having a steady hand is imperative to her golf game, too. “I noticed a lot of crossover of this perfectionist, detail-oriented mindset between the research I am doing and the sport I play. In golf, if you make one little change in your swing, your results could be crazy different.”

Perhaps her greatest challenge since the fall semester started, is balancing her studies with her sport. When Perakis competes in a tournament, she plays 36 holes one day, which can take 10 hours, and then plays 18 holes the following day. Those long days on the green take a toll physically and mentally, especially when she’s playing catch-up from missing school. That’s when she’s thankful her class sizes are small, affording her an opportunity to get to know her professors who have provided support and flexibility for her to succeed.

Over time, she’s adjusted to the demanding schedule, but admits it’s a love/hate relationship. 

“I’ve gotten better at managing my time and being fueled by all the busy-ness,” Perakis said. “It forces me to have structure and be intentional.”

As for the future, she’s not yet sure what career path to follow, but she’s embraced the uncertainty for now and takes it one day at a time. She carries on doing what she loves — playing golf and continuing her research for Sengupta.

“I’m trying to be content with the unpredictability that I can’t control in competition or in my research.”

Emily Potts