Chasing two passions

Chase W. Nelson. Photo by Chris Macke Photography, NYC

Chase W. Nelson. Photo by Chris Macke Photography, NYC

March 24, 2014
By Hannah Spicher 

Chase W. Nelson is a third year doctoral student in bioinformatics and recipient of two prestigious National Science Foundation grants. But you won’t find him around the lab in the evenings, because for the next few weeks Nelson is starring in Trustus Theatre’s latest musical production, See Rock City and Other Destinations.

 “When I first arrived at the University of South Carolina, I was interested in so many things,” says Nelson, a Presidential Fellow and researcher in the lab of Dr. Austin L. Hughes.

“But now my approach has changed. I realize I can’t be an expert at everything. But I can get good at a few things,” he says.

To make his dual training in science and music effective Nelson works strategically, focusing on areas that complement his natural strengths.

“There are lots of different methods to use and questions to ask when studying DNA sequences,” he says. “I want to become an expert in a few useful areas, such as Perl programming and detecting natural selection.” In order to improve these skills, Nelson spent last summer studying with a leading expert on DNA sequence analysis in Taipei, Taiwan, which also allowed him to pursue his interest in the Chinese language.

His approach to musical growth is similar. “With the guidance of my voice teacher, I’ve decided to focus on strengthening my voice as a baritenor. I want to develop a beautiful, rich tone that is within my healthy range,” he says.

Nelson is able to balance his passions in two demanding fields—integrative biology and musical theatre—by being judicious about everything, from his choice of friends to his focus on specific research methodologies.

“I spend half of my time doing research and half of my time training musically,” he says. “It’s not work to do music; it’s rejuvenation. Or, if my voice is tired, studying DNA sequences is rejuvenation. I find the two are perfect buffers for each other.” 

You can read Nelson’s recent research on H5N1 influenza in Nature CommunicationsSee Rock City and Other Destinations is showing March 14th through April 5th at Trustus Theatre.