This past Friday was my last official day of work at the City of Hope in Duarte, CA. As a student in the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy for the past two summers, I got two incredible opportunities, as only a high school student and graduate, to work in the laboratory of Dr. John Rossi in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Dr. Rossi’s lab primarily studies the applications of RNA interference (RNAi) to treat various diseases from lymphoma to pancreatic cancer to HIV at the genetic level.
Last summer with the guidance of two post-doctoral mentors, I worked on two projects: 1. Structural analysis and optimization of the BAFF aptamer and 2. Moderation of embryonic stem cell differentiation into cardiomyocytes using microRNAs. Unique to last summer, I was a student in the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Creativity Program (don’t exactly know how I was chosen for this…just indicated I was interested in stem cells on the application). While I was funded primarily to perform stem cell research, I also attended lectures, seminars, and workshops regarding the intersections between science, policy, business, and art. Moreover, the other students in the CIRM Creativity Program and I flew up to Stanford University to present our posters (how this trip was made possible beats me…but I loved traveling with my fellow CIRM interns and meeting so many other inspirational people up north!).
This summer under a graduate student, I focused on one project a little bit different from RNAi; I performed a lot of DNA cloning to create a plasmid containing an immune mechanism that silences key genes that HIV exploits to replicate and proliferate. The cloning process wasn’t easy at all, to say the least, but I learned so many lab techniques (PCR, ligation, Gibson Assembly, transformation of E. coli, cell culture, transfection, surveyor assay, RCL assay, etc.) that will most definitely help in my future undergraduate labs. A little less busy than I was last summer, I was not in the CIRM Creativity Program again, but I did present my research in the forms of an oral presentation, a poster, and a written report, as I did last summer. Very exhausting to prepare all of these, but once you have the finished products, you realize the work you put in was all an important part of the learning process.
Overall, I have been immensely humbled by working at the City of Hope. The members of my lab (around 20 of them) welcomed me into their home with open arms and were always willing to stop what they were doing and lend me a hand with my experiments. I want to give a special shout-out to Dr. Rossi and my mentors from last summer and this summer who were so gracious in taking me on as a summer student and SO patient because it wasn’t unusual for me to make mistakes in the lab…:) Aside from those with my lab mates, I absolutely loved the interactions I had with the other summer interns in the Roberts Academy. They are all such intelligent, motivated students, and I appreciated all the advice that I received from the undergraduates who had much more experience than I and that I was able to give to younger high school students. I have made some of my closest friendships by sharing many memories at seminars, cafeteria lunches, and socials with so many of these diverse individuals. And finally, I am in awe by how down to earth these scientists are at the City of Hope! Everyone from the directors of the program to the scientist who discovered the neurotransmitter GABA (yes, he’s Dr. Roberts, the founder and beneficiary of the summer student academy!) to the scientists who first synthesized human insulin was extremely relatable and conversational. I am so blessed to have had meaningful conversations with so many people on campus, and I definitely recommend applying to this program to obtain such an unparalleled holistic experience performing biomedical research, networking with a variety of people, and developing the professional and social skills that can be translated across the spectrum of your endeavors!