1. Summer research?! Tell us more!
This summer I conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Jeremiah Faith as part of the Summer Undergraduate Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. My project involved looking at gut microbes in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (like Crohn’s and Colitis) in comparison to gut microbes in healthy patients. Research on gut microbes has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with the ultimate goal of being able to develop new ways to manipulate properties of the human microbiota to prevent or treat disease. The problem is that the majority of gut microbes have yet to be cultured in lab. The goal of my project was to increase the diversity of cultured microbes to be used in future studies. In order to do this, I worked with my hands in an anaerobic chamber, as many gut microbes can’t survive in the presence on oxygen. While more work needs to be done on increasing the diversity of cultured gut microbes in the lab, Dr. Faith’s hope is to eventually be able to use microbe inheritance patterns in families to provide statistical evidence of specific microbes that may be indicative of contributing to the onset of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
2. That is fascinating! How were you able to get involved with Dr. Faith, as he is not on your college campus?
My research was part of an undergraduate research program. I knew I wanted to work in New York City this summer, so I researched undergraduate research programs in the city online and found the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Mount Sinai. Once I was accepted into the program, I was allowed to list five possible labs at the Icahn School of Medicine that I would be interested in working in. I’m very interested in gastroenterology, and Dr. Faith did his post-doc at WashU (where I am a student), so his lab caught my eye.
3. What advice would you give a student trying to get involved in summer research?
I think summer undergraduate research programs are a really great option. These programs are often structured and involve an end of summer presentation, and my particular program involved weekly discussions where current PhD students and professors would come in to talk about their research, which I loved! My advice would be to research some programs in places you want to be for the summer and apply to them. There are also many researchers out there that would be happy to take undergraduate students for the summer outside of programs so it’s also a great option to email people separately who are doing work you’re interested in! For advice on how to reach out to professors and researchers, check out this post with tips on sending the perfect email.
4. That is great advice! What was the most rewarding thing about your work this summer?
I had to give three presentations as part of my program: one very informal one in the beginning, one more formal powerpoint in front of the other students in the program and the program directors, and then a final poster presentation. It was amazing for me to look at my personal progress along the way. At the first informal presentation I barely knew what I was talking about and it was hard for me to answer questions about the logistics of my project. During my final presentation , however, I felt very confident in my understanding of my project and even in my broad area of research. It’s amazing to see how much you can learn in only ten weeks, and how the program made me a more confident presenter and communicator. Research is not useful unless you are able to communicate your findings and its importance to the surrounding community, so having this practice and building my communication skills was just as valuable as the science I learned.
5. How has your research role shaped your career goals?
I’m pre-med, so I’ve always known I wanted to be a doctor, but this program focused a lot on individuals who wanted to get an MD-PhD. I absolutely loved what I did this summer and definitely want to continue conducting research, but I think that my research showed me that I want to primarily be an MD who conducts research on the side rather than getting an MD-PhD.
6. What was the hardest thing about being involved in research over the summer?
Research takes a lot of patience because it oftentimes takes many tries and changes in methods and ideas in order to see results. When research is done in only a 10-week period, like my summer research was, it can be very frustrating to keep conducting experiments but not getting the results you hoped for. The hardest thing about my research was definitely the fact that it was conducted in such a short period of time. While I did get some results and insights into what methods worked and what methods did not, I definitely would have liked more time to complete my project and to have seen the results I hoped for.
Interested in researching this summer? Check out ScholarBridge and filter your search for Summer Research Assistant openings. You will be amazed with the potential opportunities that exist, like this one with Professor Douglas Harrison of the University of Kentucky in cell biology!