High School/College: I went to high school in England and Germany, and moved to Cleveland to start my undergraduate training at Case Western Reserve University.
Description of project worked on: I have been working on defining the role of patient derived PP2A A-alpha subunit mutations in cancer.
Mentor and years in program: My mentors were Goutham Narla, MD, and Caitlin O’Connor. I have worked at this lab during the summers of 2014, 2015, and 2016.
Skills obtained: I learned several skills and lab techniques in molecular biology such as western blotting, qPCR, cell-culture work, cell survival and proliferation assays, drug screens etc.
Future professional goals: Aspiring physician.
How did you realize you were interested in research?
Research has always been something that has fascinated me. My high school in Germany offered us one week of “work-experience” where I was able to work at a lab and this was where I got my first taste of research. I became fascinated with this type of work, not just because of the science of it, but also what it represented in the bigger picture.
Why did you not want to wait until later to start working in a research lab? Why was it important for you to start the training process early?
I am a big believer in young individuals getting the exposure to basic science research early. A lot of misconceptions arise from the lack of knowledge of the process of research, and I believe that the earlier these misconceptions can be addressed the better. Furthermore, starting research early provides a great platform to train young individuals to develop a very analytical way of thinking, which is highly advantageous. I personally always had a deep interest in research, and I wanted to get involved with it as early as possible, in order to ensure that this is something I wanted to do, and learn about the subject as much as possible.
How did you hear about the program?
I heard about The Young Scientist Foundation through students enrolled in the program.
What excited you about it?
The opportunity to get involved with research that was impacting real lives, and work with world-class mentors who truly care about student experience are the reasons I was excited about this training program.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about programs like this?
I think a lot of students can be intimidated by joining such programs because they do not believe that they have the relevant experience. But it is pretty obvious that as a high school student you are not going to have a world of experience, and you are truly joining this program to learn.
What surprised you the most about the training experience?
I was definitely surprised by how involved I was with the research project. I assumed that I would not be given very important things to do due to my lack of knowledge and experience, but I really hit the ground running, and because of this I learned a lot of things fast. Everyone in the lab is really willing to help students learn too, which is great. They really treat you as part of the lab once you join.
Was it difficult to balance your work schedule with other commitments when you were working in the lab?
I definitely think there were challenges in balancing my schedule when I was working in the lab during winter months and classes had started. Research is pretty time-consuming and you really need to be able to manage your time well. That being said, my lab-mates are really accommodating and do the best they can to help me out when I am busy.
How is a typical day in the lab structured?
Of course in the beginning you do not have much freedom, as you need to learn the ropes. But once you start getting the hang of things, it is a very flexible schedule. As long as you know what you need to do and how to do it, you have a lot of autonomy in picking your schedule. This helped me a lot, as I could work around my classes and other commitments, yet still finish the experiments I wanted to later in the day.
How was your mentor guiding your through the training process?
How was it to work with him? My mentor, Goutham Narla, MD, was fantastic through the whole process. Even when I was not part of the lab yet, he would meet with me and invite me to lab meetings so that I could learn about what the lab does. He really takes into consideration what you want to do, as it is, after all, your experience that matters the most. I have been involved with the same project my whole time at the lab, and this continuity really helps not only with getting an in-depth knowledge of the science behind it, but also provides you with concentration and ownership of results.
What was the most memorable thing about the training program?
While the science was what initially drew me to the program, I really think it is the people I have met that have made it most memorable. I have made some very close friends through this process, and this is perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of the program.
What is the most beneficial thing you believe you learned during your training?
I have certainly learned a lot about basic science through The Young Scientist Foundation. However, perhaps the most important thing I have learned is how painstaking and fraught with obstacles the process of research really is. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of misconceptions about research; people think that you can get answers to scientific questions with a simple click of a button, or with one easy test. But this experience has taught me how thorough the process of research is, and I think this has been a great lesson to learn.
How do you think this training experience will help your future career?
I definitely aim to continue doing research in medical school, so undoubtedly this experience will help me a lot. Not just in terms of what I have learned about the science behind cancer, but more so the broader lessons of how basic science research works. It has certainly made me aware of things that earlier I would not have even considered, e.g. the gap between the bench and the bedside, the process of FDA approval for novel therapeutics, the nature of reviewing papers, etc. This knowledge will undoubtedly guide me in my future career.
For those, considering starting the program, what would you advise?
I would definitely suggest to consider the program strongly if research is something you are interested in. It gives you a great opportunity to experience cutting-edge research and work to answer fundamental questions in biology. Naturally it comes with a time commitment and there will need to be sacrifices, but if it is something you see yourself doing in the future, the commitment is definitely worth it.
What inspires you?
The bigger picture has always inspired me. The ability to contribute and help has long been a driving force behind my actions, and research allows me to do just this. It also allows me to fulfill my own curiosity, thus making it the best of both worlds.
What are you thankful for?
A lot of things really. I have been fortunate to have a great education, supportive family and friends, and wonderful extra-curricular activities. The experience I have had with The Young Scientist Foundation is definitely on the list of things I have to be thankful for.
What are you concentrating on now?
Applying to medical school and graduating from Case Western Reserve University are two things I am concentrating on right now.