College: Entering my third year at the Ohio State University
Mentor and years in program: Caroline Farrington; I have been working in the lab for the summers of 2015 and 2016. I plan to come back and continue my work in the lab.
Description of project worked on: Studying the biological effects of SMAPs on triple negative breast cancer cell lines.
Skills obtained: Cell culture maintenance, cell culture experiments, running western blots, RNA quantifications, running real-time plates (to analyze relative gene expression in certain conditions), optimizing for proteomics time points as well as optimizing the best conditions in which to run an experiment, Seahorse Metabolism Stress Test Assays.
Future professional goals: I plan to pursue a degree in medicine after receiving a B.S. in Molecular Genetics with a minor in Business at OSU.
How did you realize you were interested in research?
I realized that I was interested in research when I began wanting to explore the answers to so many unanswered questions presented to me in the classroom. I would always ask why? My dad started to send me articles in the newspaper to read about translational medicine and biomedical advances that I read in-between classes. They left me extremely intrigued. I wanted to learn more about the applications of research to the medical field and gain hands-on experience.
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 believed that it was important for me to start early in order to gain exposure to research before enrolling into medical school. Research is so closely connected to medical practices and it is important for doctors to learn about advancing technology and developing translational medicine. In addition, I wanted to get a head start in a field that I was extremely curious about so that I could broaden my educational experiences.
How did you hear about the program?
I heard about the program when I met with a few physicians the summer after my freshman year. After talking to Dr. Narla and seeing the lab firsthand, I believed that joining the program would be the best fit for my personality and for moving forward with my education.
Why did you think you would be a good fit?
I walked into the lab and saw people conversing and asking questions. I remember people were laughing with one another, yet remained focused on their projects at hand. Dr. Narla and the rest of the members in the lab made me feel welcomed. I knew I wanted to be in an environment where I could interact and work with others as well as ask lots of questions. That is how I learn best.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about joining programs like this?
A lot of students that I know are scared to join a research lab, especially labs where they are assigned mentors. They are afraid that they will fall into a routine where they eventually are not learning anything at all. However, that is the exact opposite of what I have experienced working in Dr. Narla’s lab. Every day I learn something new, if not a hundred new things. I have the freedom to plan out my own experiments and the times that I will conduct them. My mentor constantly motivates me. She inspires me everyday to never give up, even if the outcome is not one that you were expecting to attain.
What surprised you the most about the training experience?
What surprised me the most was how much I grew. Going into the lab at the beginning of last summer, I never imagined that I would have come this far in my education and personal growth.
Was it difficult to balance your work schedule with other commitments when you were working in the lab? What steps did you take to make sure you were organized?
I started studying for the MCAT this summer and took on some volunteering at my church. It was difficult at first to balance these commitments until I figured out how to plan my days. I sat down at the beginning of each week and wrote a to-do list of everything that I had to accomplish. By planning out my summer this way, I was able to make lab my first priority, yet still accomplish everything else that I wanted to get done.
How was your typical day in the lab structured?
The day before, my mentor and I would discuss when we both would be able to come into work the next day. We would also plan out the upcoming day so that we both had an idea of what we were going to be working on. I would normally come in around 9:00 a.m., conduct an experiment, and then take a break around lunchtime. The experiment would normally be finished in the afternoon and I would leave around 5:00 p.m. However, in contrast to the typically routine, there are days where you have to be flexible. Some experiments require you to be at the lab very early in the morning or late at night.
How was your mentor guiding your through the training process? How was it to work with her?
My mentor was very patient with guiding me through the training. Caroline was knowledgeable and always knew the answers to the many questions that I had. She was aware that mistakes do happen, especially when learning something new. She advised me that as long as I am able to learn from my mistakes, my learning experiences would trump my failures.
What is the key to building a productive mentoring relationship?
The key to building a productive mentoring relationship is to act like one another’s right hand man. There will be times that you both are tired, discouraged with an outcome, or are just having a bad day. It is so important to constantly encourage one another and radiate positivity. It is important for the mentee to keep in mind that the mentor is in charge of the overall project and that he or she is relying on your dedication and honesty. It is important for the mentor to remember that the mentee is there to learn and is bound to make some mistakes. It is both of their jobs to push each other to their highest potential. Keep in mind that not every second of every waking minute has to be revolved around science. While learning about research is very important, so is learning about one another and developing long-lasting relationships.
How has your mentor influenced your career trajectory?
My mentor has been through a lot of different experiences and has explored different jobs before aspiring to get her PhD. My mentor inspires me to be spontaneous; she encourages me to go out and fight for opportunities, even if they are out of my comfort zone. Many people try to rush through life without taking a deep breath and examining if they really want to be headed in the direction that they are headed in. She has taught me to take a step back and analyze the pros and cons of every situation before making personal or career decisions.
What is the most beneficial thing you believe you learned during your training?
The most beneficial thing I learned during my training was the background behind every experiment that was conducted in the lab. I not only learned procedures, but also knew the science behind how they worked. I understood the work in the lab that was taking place and made an effort to do additional readings to acquire a strong background and solid knowledge.
How did the program challenge you?
It challenged me to expand upon my current knowledge and research methods when approaching different problems and situations. Expansion upon these aspects especially came into play when we encountered outcomes that we had not expected. Other challenges arose in the preparation of the presentations I gave during lab meetings. I was challenged to figure out the best way to present scientific data in an effective way in which all audience members would be able to understand.
How do you think this training experience will help your future career?
This training has provided me with insight into ways clinical and developmental research fields complement medicine. This training experience has also provided me with the knowledge on how resources and techniques are combined to tackle difficulties and produce successes associated with translational medicine and patient therapies.
For those considering starting the program, what would you advise?
I would advise coming into lab with an open, educational mindset. The way that I learned as much as I did was by asking numerous questions and owing up to any mistakes that I made, not being afraid to learn from them. Your mentor is there to help you and answer any questions that you have. However, it is also your responsibility to read on your own. You are only able to get as much out of the experience as you put into it.
What inspires you?
I was a part of an organization this past year called the Mirrors Honorary Society, which connected me to the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State. Through this organization, I volunteered at the hospital and was able to interact with cancer patients while providing them with extra necessities. I had many experiences with the patients that I will never forget. Despite their ailments and adversities they were facing while fighting for their lives, many of them remained hopeful and determined to give every last ounce in their bodies. Many of the patients were also depressed, wanting their fights to end. No matter whom I talked with, I made it my goal to provide them with comfort and empathy. The patients inspired me to help as many people as I could in the moment. They drive me everyday to continue the journey to become a doctor, to fight alongside some, and fight for others who have lost their hope.
What are you thankful for?
I am thankful for my amazing, loving parents who always have my back no matter what. As I grow older, I am more aware of the decisions that I am able to make on my own. My parents are not always there for me to ask questions or to help guide me to make particular decisions. I have come to realize that the seemingly endless lectures I was given throughout my childhood have truly taught me some of the most valuable life lessons that I use everyday.
I am also very thankful for such a great experience I have been given in Dr. Narla’s laboratory, the relationships that I have gained, and the faith that The Young Scientist Foundation has placed in young students with so much potential to change the world.
What is the best advice you have been given?
To live each day not only with self-inspiration but also with the tenacity to inspire everyone around you.
What are you concentrating on now?
This year I will be concentrating on schoolwork, volunteering, and studying for the MCAT, which I plan to take in January. I am also very involved as a Development Officer for an organization called Buckeyethon, the largest student-run philanthropy in the state of Ohio. It raises money for the bone marrow transplant, oncology, and hematology floors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. This hospital is a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. It treats the child of any family that walks through their doors regardless of the ability to pay for the treatment. The Buckeyethon kids bring zeal to the cause, moving Ohio State’s campus to raise as much money as possible for them.