|DC co-op student Jacob Turner |
prepares DNA in one of the
National Institutes of Health's labs.
How did you become interested in as complex an industry as biomedical engineering and research?
At the beginning of my freshman year, I jumped right into undergraduate research in the Functional Tissue Engineering Lab at UC, under Dr. David Butler. It was in that lab that I gained my most valuable experience and really found my passion for biomedical research. I really just liked the idea of doing work that might eventually benefit a human life.
How did you navigate the co-op job search process?
When my first co-op rotation rolled around, I began reaching out to labs all across the country without much luck. Given the state of the economy, finding a co-op position (especially in a research lab) is not so easy. But through networking at UC, I was fortunate enough to meet with and get some solid advice from UC’s Provost, Dr. Santa Ono. He was incredibly helpful and connected me with a UC alum, Dr. John O’Shea, at one of the NIH’s 27 institutes – the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease – and the rest is history. I made plans to relocate to Bethesda, MD!
What is it like working at NIH?
The NIH is an inspiring place to be because everyone is there for a common cause: to help others through science and medicine. There’s always something new and exciting being discovered. There’s also a great sense of family and belonging despite the fact that most of my co-workers are from a different parts of the world. UC prides itself in the level of diversity its student body and staff display, and the NIH is much the same. In front of my desk sits an Italian; to the right, an Englishman; and directly behind me is a Chinese man. It’s wonderful hearing each of their unique stories and what brought them to NIH, and I have learned more from my conversations with them than any book could ever teach me.
What kind of work are you doing at NIH?
The work I’ve been assigned here is far different from what I used to do in the FTE lab at UC, which consisted primarily of cell culture and experiments. I work in the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch of NIAMS, and we are focused on understanding how T-cells fight disease in the immune system. The work is very intricate, utilizing a very novel technology called next-generation sequencing, which creates an incredible amount of data to be analyzed.
My job has been to write programs that analyze the millions of lines of data and extract the important things. Besides one introductory course, I was absolutely new to programming and had to spend the first month teaching myself how to program by reading through a couple bioinformatics programming books. I had also just made the switch from tissue engineering to immunology, so I spent a lot of time studying immunology and molecular biology journals. I’ve since written many different programs for the lab and successfully found a number of novel regions in the genome that could control the way T cells mature or fight disease. I’m starting to get more involved in experiments, and if time allows I’ll get to study one of the regions my programs found in mice.
What have you enjoyed most about your experience so far?
One thing I love about NIH is that they always have lectures by famous scientists. I have been privileged to sit in on lectures and learn from scientists like Jane Goodall and at least three Nobel laureates. Today I went to four lectures - it was a lot like class, but I loved it.
Being an undergraduate researcher at the NIH has been extraordinary on many levels, but most notably, it has been extraordinarily humbling. All of my co-workers have an MD or PhD degree, or both, and at least 15 years of experience in medicine and research. They are the best in the world at what they do, and I get to sit in between them at a desk just like theirs, and work on solving complex problems in immunology with them. It’s a humbling, intimidating, and incredibly enjoyable place to sit.
What has it been like adjusting to life in a new city?
Expensive. Living in one of the richest areas of the country isn’t easy on a student paycheck. Rent is double here compared to Cincinnati, but other than that and the incessant traffic, I really like the DC area. It was lonely for the first few months because NIH was devoid of anyone close to my age, but a flood of summer students arrived a couple weeks ago and I’m collaborating with one now. I’m away from my girlfriend and family, so I’m definitely anxious to get back home.
What’s your next venture?
I’m not too sure. I may stay home in Cincinnati and try to get an industry co-op, but if I decide to do research again I have a potential opportunity in Australia. My most immediate adventure will definitely be getting back to campus for fall quarter classes!