Valerie Doze

Intern name: Valerie Doze

Major(s)/Minor(s): Biochemistry and German double major 

Title/place of internship/fellowship, etc.: Undergraduate Researcher at Johns Hopkins University, Department of Neuroscience

How did you find out about your internship/fellowship/etc.? Through the CSB/SJU Summer Leadership Fellows program (and Fleischhacker Center for Ethical Leadership in Action funding), I was able to have a summer research experience in Dr. Dwight Bergles’ Lab at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Neuroscience.

What were your responsibilities at your internship/fellowship/etc.? My main responsibilities included image quantification and learning/running bioinformatics code in order to analyze different cell populations; both projects revolved around work that my graduate student mentor was doing, but I was able to start building on the second project to work on my own research for my All College Thesis in the future. For the image quantification, I learned how to count certain neural cell types, and I went through over two hundred electron microscope images in order to quantify the cells we were interested in.

Throughout most of my summer experience, my tasks including working through online tutorials on data science and R programming, applying the skills I learned to the single cell RNA-seq analyses we were running, and helping to troubleshoot issues with code and computer performance. The analyses allowed us to identify different genes that could play a role in glial cell-cell adhesion or development (glial cells support neurons in the brain). At the end of the summer, I compiled the code and results I found into a folder so that anyone in the lab can use it in the future. I also presented a PowerPoint that outlined my research and what I learned this summer, which provided me with presentation skills and helped my ability to convey scientific research and outcomes.

Although my research experience was online, I also had the opportunity to attend weekly lab meetings and journal club meetings, as well as various scientific talks, especially about research in the glial field.

What was the most beneficial aspect of your experience? Learning some computer programming/bioinformatics skills will help me in graduate school and my future career, as data analysis is becoming more frequently used every year in different fields. Since computer science is not part of the Biochemistry major, I need to learn these skills on my own, so being introduced to single-cell RNA sequencing and learning about how it works and how to analyze the gene expression using different code allowed me to see how many options there are in bioinformatics, as well as how I can apply bioinformatics to my future research.

Having to present my research at the end of the summer will also be extremely beneficial for developing my skills in scientific communication. Now, more than ever, we realize the need for scientists to be able to communicate their research to the public; presenting to the lab I worked with is the first step in doing this. As one can become focused on the details of methods, results, and analyses, it can be a challenge to remember the big picture of the research and be able to explain it clearly to others. Every presentation helps develop my public speaking skills, which I view as necessary for a successful scientific career.

What was the most surprising thing you experienced or learned during your internship/fellowship/etc.? During my summer research experience, I was able to conduct informational interviews with different lab members, which allowed me to learn about different academic paths to graduate school, as well as many of the different options after finishing a PhD. As I plan to pursue graduate school in some capacity and am trying to combine my multifaceted interests, it was promising to hear that graduate school is a time for further exploration. Even though one dives more deeply into a field of their choosing than during their undergraduate studies, there are still career offices and fairs, and graduate students are also deciding what career to pursue after defending their thesis. It was exciting to hear that graduate school does not solidify one’s career path; rather, there is still a lot of room to be flexible and change one’s mind before embarking on their career.

How can you apply what you experienced at your internship/fellowship/etc. in the future? Besides the translation between the computing/data analysis skills I learned this summer and any future research, I am planning to directly apply the skills I learn to continuing this research project, developing my own questions, and pursuing them for my All College Thesis. This summer solidified my interest in neuroscience research, so learning more about the field (specifically the glial side of neuroscience) will help me when deciding what programs are best for graduate school. I have also learned about some research that another lab is doing at the neuroscience-climate change intersection, so I have also had ideas for how to combine my interests in public health, climate health, and neuroscience in my future graduate studies and career.

Having a research experience at home also afforded me the opportunity to develop skills revolving around self-motivation, time management, and communication. One challenge with working from home is the ease with which one can feel separated from their workplace and colleagues, so while I had to make an extra effort to ask for Zoom meetings and form personal connections using our lab’s Slack channel, these efforts were beneficial in the long-run, and once we are in-person again, I will feel even more comfortable reaching out for feedback, mentoring, and general advice.

What advice would you offer to future students interested in this experience? Apply to as many research experiences as you can, and do not be afraid to learn something new. Being flexible is part of science, and while scientific research looked different this year, having a virtual experience offered a new opportunity to learn data science and bioinformatics, which is a field I would not otherwise have been introduced to during my undergraduate studies. Be open to changes, especially in a lab environment, and be ready to troubleshoot and problem solve in any summer experience/internship!