-written by Lauren Askew B.S. Biology 2016
-edited by Daijha J. Copeland
When I started my first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill, undergraduate research or a research-related career had never crossed my mind. However, once I decided that I wanted to go to medical school my focus changed. I quickly discovered that it would be helpful to have some lab experience, so I found a research opportunity in Dr. Mara Duncan’s cell biology lab. As I gained more skills and summer approached, Dr. Duncan suggested that I apply for the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART) summer research program. I was accepted into the 8-week program. I remember being both nervous and excited. Each week I spent about 40 hours in the lab and attended 3 meetings: lab meeting, a larger lab meeting with other labs, and a program meeting. I gave two presentations weekly and thus gained confidence in presenting scientific data. The first few weeks of the program were difficult because I was afraid to ask questions. I feared that lab members would think poorly of me. One day a graduate student took me under his wing and encouraged me to ask questions about my project and the projects of other lab members. I acted on the graduate student’s advice and my overall performance in the lab lead to an opportunity to do independent research my sophomore year.
I did research on autophagy in yeast and how it can be initiated during the summer and the following school year. Early in the school year though, I transitioned to a biochemistry lab, and gained a new prospective on the work that I had previously conducted.
During the summer, working in a lab every day was straightforward. Research was my sole responsibility. I found during the school year that conducting research was far more difficult. Expectations were higher and time management was crucial when working with longer experiments. And then there was school work, and other obligations. By the end of my sophomore year, I better understood my capacity, stopped spreading myself so thin, and could better schedule experiments and extracurricular activities.
Currently, I am doing research at Johns Hopkins for 10 weeks through their Summer Internship Program (SIP). My research is on Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes delayed developmental growth and is characterized by premature rapid aging of the face in early childhood. The goal of my project is to find novel interactions between Zmpste24, a gene that codes for a post-translational enzyme, and other regulatory proteins proven to be involved in premature aging syndromes. The research involves working with mammalian cells and performing a lot of cloning, both of which are new to me.
Getting involved in research has changed my career plans significantly. Instead of pursuing the M.D. path, I plan to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree in infectious diseases. Although it is possible to do research as an M.D., I want to gain the research skills provided by a doctoral degree to reach my maximum potential as a medical researcher. My research experiences have also made me more interested in academia in the future. I had amazing mentors, who have constantly encouraged me and helped me strive towards excellence. Using the mentoring techniques I gained from my mentors, I have been able to help fellow students in their research projects. I find joy in sharing my knowledge with others and would definitely like to make mentoring others a part of my career.