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Studying sleep at Mayo Clinic

St. Olaf College student Taylor Knopf ’18 (second from left) worked with a team of Mayo Clinic researchers this summer to study sleep.

Sleep was at the top of Taylor Knopf’s agenda this summer.

But the St. Olaf College junior wasn’t focused on getting rest — she was focused on studying it alongside a team of Mayo Clinic researchers.

Knopf spent her summer working in the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Sleep Medicine. She joined a team led by St. Olaf alumnus Erik St. Louis ’87 that is examining a wide range of issues related to sleep, particularly REM sleep behavior disorders and their connection to a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

Knopf, a Spanish major with concentrations in neuroscience and biomolecular studies, spent much of her time in the lab scoring polysomnographic data.

“Basically, patients sleep overnight in our lab with electrodes attached to parts of the head, face, arms, and legs,” she says. “All of the data taken from these electrodes are compiled into one file that I can read for movements in the body that would be representative of sleep disorder or disease.”

Taylor Knopf ’18 stands near a bronze statue of William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo outside the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The brothers, along with their father, built the world-renowned medical facility.

In addition to this hands-on work in the lab, Knopf also had the opportunity to interact with physicians at the world-renowned medical facility and attend conferences and lectures.

“One of my favorite talks was at a neurosurgery conference about the ethical dilemmas that neurosurgeons may often face,” says Knopf, who plans to attend medical school and pursue a career as a surgeon.

Knopf was connected to the lab and St. Louis through the pre-health advisor at St. Olaf, Associate Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp. She received internship funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career to support her time at Mayo Clinic this summer.

In the past year, 107 St. Olaf students have received Piper Center funding for unpaid or underpaid internships. Another 107 students have received internship funding through college programs such as the Rockswold Health Scholars Program, the Svoboda Legal Scholars Program, and the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund — all part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths.

Knopf says her time at Mayo has reinforced her plans to pursue a career in health care.

“Throughout the summer, I’ve also had opportunities to spend time with Mayo Clinic physicians in clinics and the operating room,” she says. “This summer has offered me the chance to see newborn babies, tumor resections, and cancer-free announcements. As an aspiring surgeon, I’ve found these experiences to be informative in determining the path I want to take after my graduation from St. Olaf.”