College: I am studying Bioengineering at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
Description of project worked on: Validating TIPRL knockdowns and overexpressions in lung cancer cells. Analying the effects of the previous actions on PP2A subunit and other important cell proteins. Performing Tumor Co-ip western blots.
Name of mentor and years in program: Dan Leonard. I participated in the program during the summer of 2016.
Skills obtained: Western blotting, cell harvesting, analyzing blots and experiment data in general. In addition, I learned ways to think critically in the lab context.
Future professional aspirations: Becoming a physician. Whether I want to do research or not is still something I am deciding.
How did you realize you were interested in research and science?
Biology was my favorite subject in high school. I loved the labs we did at school, and enjoyed the cadaver dissection labs with a local physician.
The rapid advancement of technology has driven many improvements in all aspects of life. One such innovation that has had a lasting impact on my life along with many others is the cochlear implant. My otolaryngologist Dr. Michael Novak, gifted thousands of patients the ability to hear and has changed the lives of both his patients and their families. He is my inspiration. My sensorineural hearing impairment has piqued my interest in regenerative medicine. To be able to contribute I aspire to study medicine and, do an MD PhD. Research in conjunction with a medical degree will better qualify me to direct both scientific development and clinical deployment. I also believe it is important to develop lower cost, less invasive and more capable therapeutics.
Why did you not want to wait until college to gain the research experience?
I felt like the early research experience would be important when making my choice of major and school. If I did not enjoy research, I probably would have pursued less research in college and did more volunteering.
When and why did you decide to start the program? What moved you to look for the program?
In high school, most classes teach the theory of biology, chemistry, and other science subjects. Outside of a few labs, there is very little exposure to reserach or any of the material lectured about. I joined a lab in high school to get that experience and exposure and it really went a long way in directing my career goals and how I was going to spend my time in the future. Because of that experience I joined a lab in college and chose a major that was very much research focused.
I heard about The Young Scientist Foundation from a friend of my father. I applied because I was excited to experience a new research environment. Dr. Narla is a physician-scientist conducting translational research. The percentage of physicians conducting research that is being directly applied to clinic is very small. I viewed this as a valuable opportunity that could shape my carreer goals.
What was the first day like for you?
On the first day in the lab I mostly observed the graduate students doing various techniques. I was also walked through the steps for the western blot. Although I had about a year and a half of lab experience at the time I started the program, I had never performed a western blot as none of the labs I worked in utilized it.
Can you talk about your mentor?
After spending a summer at the lab, Dan Leonard grew into being one of my role models. His career path is something I am interested in following. He worked two years at the NIH before attending medical school (something that is very appealing to me). Dan was very approchable and laid back. During the eight weeks I was at the lab, I have made many mistakes while learning the techniques and protocols and he was always very understanding. Throughout the time I was here, my mentor instilled a mentality of always thinking ahead. I have never performed an experiment without knowing why I was doing it and what the next step would do. He was always one of the earliest in the lab and the latest to leave. Even though he was extremely busy, Dan always found the time to teach and help us and was very accessible. He bled passion about his work and teaching which definetly inspired me.
How was the program different from what you had expected originally?
Before starting the training I expected to have less independence than I actually experienced. Very early on, by the second week of training, I was doing much of my work independently without supervision. I also expected less undergraduates and high school students in the lab. In fact, there were quite a lot of us, and it was nice to have people around my age to interact with.
What has been the best thing about being in the program?
I think the best part was meeting and learning from Dr. Narla, mentors and other students. It was also nice knowing that my work this summer might benefit the lab’s projects in the future.
As a student, how did you balance your schedule with work at the lab?
The Young Scientist Foundation was my main commitment this summer. I always worked during the day and spent the evening working out, studying for the MCAT, or relaxing. Sometimes there were days where lab work kept me late, but I always was ahead of schedule for my MCAT class so it did not affect my schedule.
What is the one thing you wish you knew before starting the program?
Patience is key. Being more patient when working in the lab would have saved me a lot of headache and redos for procedures. Also I never expected the mentors to be so open and engaging, they turned out to be very willing to impart knowledge.
What should other students look forward to when starting the program?
The high degree of independence and trust that will be vested in you.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by all of the members of the lab. Physicians (and my otolaryngologist especially) work tirelessly to perfect their craft. Research takes a lot of hard work and patience. Sometimes you can work on a project for months and in the end it may not pan out. The thought of that is very demoralizing, but they still push on with their work.
What are you thankful for?
I am thankful for the opportunities that I have. Other hearing impaired kids do not always have parents that are as willing to invest time and money to ensure they can hear and speak at a high level as my parents have. I have had many teachers who cared enough to make sure I stayed on track, learned properly, and informed me of many opportunities that I could take advantage of.
What are you concentrating on now?
I will be studying abroad in Singapore during the Fall 2016 semester. I am focused on adjusting to life in Singapore, at the National University of Singapore, traveling, and preparing on taking the MCAT in January.
One of my main goals in life is to experience and understand the perspectives and cultures of people from all around the world. I want to be challenged to reconsider some of my beliefs and values, and studying abroad is the best way to understand and improve myself. As an aspiring physician, I want to better understand and empathize with each and every patient and having a vast global awareness will serve a new lens to explore ideas and concepts with. Hopefully my time at the National University of Singapore will provide valuable experiences toward this goal.