In the Lab and on the Water, Stephen Grant ’15 is Driven to Succeed
Student-athlete Stephen Grant ’15 is looking to break new ground in cancer research while revisiting hallowed ground as a member of Stony Brook University Crew.
Stephen, an Honors College student, works with adenoviruses, one of the top agents for cancer gene-therapy.
But several days a week, hours before donning a lab coat or racing off to class, the senior chemistry major heads to practice at the Knox School in St. James, which has property on Stony Brook Harbor, to row for Stony Brook’s crew club team.
Stephen presides over the club and knows its historical significance on campus.
“We were actually the first sports team Stony Brook ever had, and for decades it was a varsity team,” he said, adding that the team’s heyday, captured in part by a photo hanging on the second floor of the Melville Library, was in the ’70s.
As president, Stephen helps schedule practices, meetings and fundraisers, and registers the team for regattas, aided by his executive board and coaching staff. He’s also responsible for team strategy.
“Stony Brook Crew is definitely going places,” he said. “It’s stressful, but when the team is winning medals and everyone’s having a good time, there is no better job in the world.”
Stephen’s job can’t get much better — Stony Brook’s novice crew team won four medals in the past year, with the novice women’s team capturing gold at the Head of the Housatonic, and the novice men grabbing gold at the Fall Metropolitan Championship Regatta.
“When you’re sitting in the boat, there is absolutely nothing in your mind other than rowing and winning,” Stephen said. “You don’t see anything other than the back of the person in front of you, you don’t hear anything other than the coxswain, and the only thing you smell is impending victory. Not only do you need to be an elite athlete, but you need immense mental discipline to push your body to the limits for 2,000 meters.”
Stephen quoted a former assistant coach, Ashleigh Teitel, who described what that process feels like. “Large needles are being driven into your thigh muscles, while your forearms seem to be splitting. Then the pain becomes confused and disorganized. As you pass the 500-meter mark, with three-quarters of the race still to row, you think that you are not going to make it to the finish, but at the same time the idea of letting your teammates down by not rowing your hardest is unthinkable.”
Stephen approaches his cancer research with that same kind of mental toughness.
“In my lab with Professor Isaac Carrico, we run chemical reactions inside cells or on viruses without them knowing what we are doing to them,” said Stephen. “Usually, when you change something in a cell, the cell will notice and behave differently. We don’t want that. We want the cell or virus to not see it as something out of the ordinary.”
Always interested in “why” questions as a child, Stephen said he finally started getting the answers he needed by taking AP science classes at Longwood High School in Middle Island, New York.
“Those courses made me work really hard and helped me see my potential,” he said. Research is what helped Stephen realize that potential.
“I feel that my biggest accomplishments are when something works in my research,” said Stephen. “Although it may sound small, every time I have an idea that turns out to work, it is a huge accomplishment for me because it shows that my initiative and creativity were right. The experiments you perform will not be perfect all of the time and there will be obstacles. However, once you overcome them, there is no better feeling in the world.”
Stephen plans to pursue a PhD in chemistry and stay in academia for the rest of his career.
“I strongly advise going into science — or crew for that matter — if you truly think you will love it,” said Stephen. “Do not do it for the money or prestige but because you like finding the answers to questions. Do it because you want to know why something is the way it is or how it can be improved. And find a professor with similar interest in the questions you have and start your research early.”
For more about Stony Brook crew’s renaissance visit www.stonybrookcrew.com.
– By Glenn Jochum; photos by John Griffin