High School
Dalton Science Research Program

Jocelyn (Junior)

I actually worked in two labs, because the graduate student I was working with (Scott Callahan) was doing projects in both labs. Scott's focus was melanomas, primarily their growth. 
Melanomas usually start in one origin cell and spread from there. Scott's idea was that if he could identify different origin cells, and examine the unique characteristics in the melanomas that resulted, more specific treatment could be provided to patients based on the origin cell of their melanoma. One lab he works at, the Lorenz Studer Lab at Memorial-Sloan Kettering, is focused on developmental cell biology. The lab is almost 30 people, run by Dr. Lorenz Studer (a huge name in developmental biology and the founder and director of the Center for Stem-Cell Biology at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). Everyone in the lab uses embryonic stem cells to conduct their research. These pluri-popal cells are amazing, because they can be turned into different cells. Scott, using various combinations of chemicals, turned embryonic stem cells into melanocytes (the cells found in melanomas). Most of the work in this lab consisted of taking care of the cells (feeding them, giving them the chemicals, basically making sure they are happy.) This work was all done under a very sterile hood, and there were a lot of rules in place about cleanliness to make sure that none of the cells were contaminated. We would spend about 3 hours under the hood every day, taking care of the cells. There are three primary assays that we used to test the cells to see where they were in the process of becoming melanocytes. A Western Blot is used to test for specific proteins, the qPCR provides quantitative results about the RNA levels in the cell, and Immunoflourescent Imaging is used to show the presence of specific proteins. I had a chance to conduct all three of these assays at the lab.

The other lab, the White Lab at Memorial-Sloan Kettering, is entirely focused on melanomas. This lab is smaller, around 10 people, and run by Dr. Richard White. In this lab, everyone conducts their research using zebrafish. Using CRISPR technology, Scott had "fixed" DNA to have mutations that would cause tumors in the zebrafish. He would use different DNA in different sets of zebrafish and cross them with each other. Then, we would collect the eggs, and inject them with new DNA (which had whatever mutations we wanted). To tell if our injections worked, we had fluorescents in the DNA, that would light up specific colors if a particular mutation is expressed. We spent probably two to three hours most days injecting and imaging the fish. Obviously, this is a comprehensive explanation of the things I did in both labs, but I do have a notebook that has very specific details about the work that I did. If you would like to meet in the beginning of the school year, I could bring the notebook and explain some of the things in more depth.
My hours varied every day. Usually, I would come in around 9, and leave at 7. My schedule would change if we had lab meetings, which were twice a week (once a week for each lab), in which case I would come in around 12. I worked five days a week. I think my favorite part of the lab was the lab meetings. Around two or three people would present their recent work at each of the meetings. Even though it was hard for me to understand a lot of what people were doing, I loved the environment of the meetings. People would give a lot of constructive criticism, which was very helpful for the people presenting. A lot of time, the presenters came in with a problem they were having, and many people were able to relate their research to the presenters and help them figure out a way to move forward towards solving the problem. I also really enjoyed doing the various assays that I mentioned doing in the Studer Lab. It is so exciting to see the work that I am doing have actual results in the cells (I also got to do these assays with the cells that Scott had given me to care for, so it was rewarding to see that it was working). Of course, there were a lot of things that went wrong, and that's probably the most important thing I learned in the lab: seeing how Scott reacted to these problems. There are so many little things that can go wrong, especially with all the cell work, and Scott showed me how important it is to have patience, and how to be okay with having to start over when something went wrong. Also, working with the zebrafish is frustrating, because they are not always cooperative. There were some days they just wouldn't lay eggs, which could be very annoying. Overall, I enjoyed experiencing the environment of working in a lab, and I will most likely be working with Scott again next summer. We decided it would be hard for me to work in the lab during the school year because, with my athletics and schoolwork, I won't have any large chunks of time to set aside. There is actually a lot of waiting in the lab, as every project takes a long time. For instance, a Western Blot takes two days to complete and has to be taken care of most of that time.
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