05 Jun

From Berea College to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, I prepared to arrive at my internship site. The Aspirnaut program, a biomedical research internship aimed at providing high school and undergraduate students the opportunity to learn and practice research of the basic sciences, welcomed me and several other students around the country.

After the 5-hour road trip from Charleston, WV (where I resided after conclusion of the academic year), I arrived at Vanderbilt University to check-in to my intern residence hall, E. Bronson Ingram College.

On the very first day (Memorial Day, it was), after unpacking and before our brief welcome event, I explored the campus and fell in love with the general setting of the college. The pathways were shadowed by overhanging tree limbs and the fields were filled with scenic sculptures and statues that brought life to the campus. In a way, Vanderbilt U. was like a larger, more prestigious Berea College.

After walking the paths of the college, I made my way over to the University’s medical center, where most of my internship would take place. Understanding the opportunity ahead of me and the prestige of the medical center, I felt blessed to be here as an undergraduate intern.

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center of Nashville, TN is ranked No. 19 on the Best Hospitals Honor Roll and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine is ranked No. 13 amongst the nation's elite programs, according to U.S. News and World Report's annual ranking of top medical schools for research (ranks of 2022).

Detouring onto the medical center, I explored the medical college and the research buildings that covered the block. Once I entered the heart of the medical center, I was amazed by all the clinical infrastructure and research buildings that surrounded the plaza on all sides. This would be my place for the next 10 weeks.

Afterward, I headed back to the residence dorm to attend the brief Aspirnaut welcome event. Here, we simply greeted one another and learned the essentials of living in Nashville and what to expect during our internship in our individual lab assignments. I was both nervous and eager for the following days.

As the official orientation day arrived, I woke up refreshed and ready to take on the new weeks. We walked over to the medical center as a group and attended the Aspirnaut internship orientation at Light Hall, a medical research building. Here, we learned much more about laboratory safety, what to expect in the lab, and how to manage time between lab hours and the program’s enrichment hours.

As I would soon learn, the program’s hours were composed of scientific writing lectures, poster crafting sessions, psychological thriving skills, everyday fitness training, health and wellness sessions, luncheons with distinguished honorary speakers, and many more. These enrichment events were to be prioritized by the program directors, and the research hours must be scheduled around such events.

At first thought, it may seem like a lot to manage, but it is certainly doable. Learn more in my Aspirnaut Reflection blogpost.

Furthermore, a schedule for what was to come for me in the following weeks can be viewed below (program calendar from June 2022).

Later throughout that week, I attended a few laboratory skills training sessions to learn some of the basic procedures and scientific techniques used in laboratory protocols. Here, I practiced some very useful methods as serial dilutions and standard curve preparation, SDS-PAGE and western blotting, DNA gel electrophoresis, cell culturing, and much more.

These small training sessions were very valuable and prepared me for the next 9 weeks of my internship.

On Friday of the first week, I was introduced to my new lab, where I would work on my project for the remainder of the summer for the Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic (KUH division of the NIH) undergraduate research symposium.

I was assigned to the Pozzi lab of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at VUMC under the astute mentorship of Dr. Gema Bolas, Ph.D. Collectively, the Pozzi lab, under the principle investigator Dr. Ambra Pozzi, Ph.D., studies the underlying disease mechanisms of kidney fibrosis. For my research project, I was tasked to study the Discoidin Domain Receptor 1 (DDR1), a receptor tyrosine kinase crucial for many disease pathologies including kidney fibrosis.

More specifically, my research project would be titled The Discoidin Domain Receptor 1 phosphorylates the adaptor p66Shc to promote mitochondrial oxidative stress. Much more will be discussed in the internship reflection.

Finally, throughout the introductory week, I had already learned so much vital information and new practical technique valuable for my professional development and future career field. I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

Hence, everyday for the next two months, I planned to emulate the diligence of my mentors and attain the motivation of a true young professional preparing for his/her future. 

Continue reading about the my Aspirnaut summer here (Aspirnaut Reflection blogpost).

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