Name: Joshua Isak
High School: The Bronx High School of Science
Description of project worked on: Identifying novel immunoreactive proteins of Babesia microti
Mentor and years in program: I participated in the program during the summer of 2016 in the lab of Cheryl Lobo, PhD
Skills obtained: A significant portion of my time in the lab involved the planning and execution of experiments. Through my training I learned how to pipette, make gels, and use a variety of different machines and systems to run experiments and gather data. These included autoclaving, running gel electrophoresis, PCR, denaturing proteins, operating centrifuges, and washing blood. Through the implementation of these skills I learned how to plan a day of experiments ahead of time and manage a significant amount of work in a relatively short amount of time.
Future professional aspirations: Biomedical research, astrophysics
What influenced your interest in research?
My interest in research was fueled by the desire to apply what I had learned in the classroom. Passing a test on cell biology is not as satisfying as conducting an experiment and analyzing data. I feel that the ability to apply myself directly to the subject I am interested in has allowed me to learn much more than a classroom setting would ever allow me to.
How did you hear about the program?
I found the program online while searching for lab opportunities for high school students in the summer.
How did you know you were ready to take the next step and work in the lab? Did you have any reservations?
I was naturally very doubtful about my ability to perform in a lab setting, having gone no further than high school chemistry and biology curriculum. Taking the next step and looking for an opportunity to work a lab environment, was something I decided to act on after realizing how much I enjoyed the experiments in my high school classes. Encouraged by my teachers and parents, I decided to pursue YSF program to finally follow my aspirations.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about programs like this?
I believe it has to do with the students’ fear of prerequisite prior knowledge of working in the lab or perceived demanding learning curve. The majority of programs offering opportunities to students seem to seek experienced individuals already skilled in a lab protocols. This can seem intimidating and off-putting to high school students who are looking to get their feet wet and gain real experience of working in the lab.
How did you overcome some of the insecurities you faced early on in your training?
My mentors were patient and diligent throughout the training process, so while I did make mistakes early on, their compassion kept me motivated and allowed me to perfect my techniques.
What is the mentorship relationship like? How would you describe your mentor?
Dr. Lobo and her associates were both professional and friendly with me during my time in the lab. My mentor truly cared about advancing my understanding of the tasks at hand, and was eager to involve me on the lab’s research projects. She was patient, diligent, and professional throughout.
What is the one thing you wish you knew before starting the program?
I wish I knew the program was not as intimidating as I made it out to be. I was constantly fearful that I would not be able to keep up with the work in the lab and was anxious during my first few days. I soon came to realize that my compassionate mentors and my drive to succeed would contribute to an enriching learning experience. If I had that mindset early on, I might have been a little less shy about getting acquainted with the team in the lab.
What was the most challenging thing for you on the first day in the lab?
The hardest thing was getting acquainted with my position in the lab. When I visited research institutions in the past, I was not allowed to touch anything. Getting over the stigma that I am just a guest, and realizing that I am actually a part of the scientific research team was both thrilling and challenging on my first day.
How was this training meaningful to you?
The program was meaningful to me because it let me realize that I have the capability and interest to pursue a career in the biomedical field. Prior to my training I never knew that I would be able to run my own western gels or analyze the results of PCR. Knowing that I can only grow from here, motivates me to continue my research and pursue a degree in biology.
What is the most beneficial thing you believe you learned during your training? Why?
It was great to learn a better approach to analysis. A number of days into my training, experiments were performed and data came in that needed to be analyzed. I learned to take a new perspective on analysis, considering a number of factors both inside and outside of the experiment. While employing this skill in the lab gave me insight into why films were blotched the way they were, outside of the lab it helped me gain a new perspective on the problems I might be facing in life. The realization that any factor, no matter how minuscule, can have an enormous impact on the final results was life changing in its own right.
What is the key to making the best out of this program for a student?
The key lies in maintaining an open mind as well as willingness to try new things.
Do you think that training in YSF program influenced your future career path? If so, how?
I definitely think that my time in the program gave me a new perspective on what I could be doing with the rest of my life. I always thought that research was a field that I could never advance in or be a part of, but my time with the Young Scientist Foundation has allowed me to not only realize that I am capable of succeeding and making a difference in biomedical research, but also that I have a passion for doing so.
For those, considering starting the program, what would you advise?
Be open to trying new things, all the time. I believe my experience in the program was so rewarding because I was constantly dabbing into different things throughout my training, learning and applying different research techniques and skills. By allowing yourself to try a plethora of things in the lab, you are more likely to find something that you enjoy doing, and once that happens, the possibilities are endless.
What are you thankful for?
I am most thankful for my involved mother, who constantly strives to support me in all of my endeavors (including driving me all the way to Cleveland for the Gala!). She has always helped me achieve the things I want, and is always willing to try new things with me. Without her, I would not be where I am today.
What are you concentrating on now?
As a junior in high school, currently I am bogged down by the looming horror of college applications. The culmination of all of my accomplishments boils down to the opportunities I am given in college, and it is as much an exciting time as it is stressful.