The beginning of my life-changing adventure, known as the Stanford Institute of Medicine Research Summer Program or SIMR as we loving call it. I had been waiting for this day since mid-March when I had received my acceptance email. I was filled with excitement, wonder, nervousness, and a little bit of confusion. Would I fit in with the other students? Would my mentor and lab members like me? Would everyone be nice? Would I be able to handle university level research? I had so many questions, but from the moment I stepped foot onto campus I knew everything would be great. I was greeted by a circle of other SIMR students outside our building. They were going around introducing themselves and telling others which institute they were in. Even from that very first moment, there was a bond between institute members, a little hoot here and there or a “Me too!” I knew things could only get better, and they did. I remember standing in line to check-in and receiving my very own lab coat and safety goggles, among other awesome SIMR gear (yay T-shirts!).
At orientation, I was amazed by the level of research students my own age had conducted in the past. Last year, one of the SIMR students created a computer program that compared diseases and now all the work done in the lab he worked in is based off of his program! I was in awe of the fact that a high schooler could do such a thing, and definitely inspired. And my admiration for the science world just continued to grow. I have had the immense honor of attending incredible lectures on topics like regenerating bone from adipose-derived stem cells, nuclear reprogramming, and curing diseases like sickle cell disease through the CRISPR/Cas9 system. But, perhaps most exciting was attending lectures with two Nobel Laureates. I was definitely star-struck and immediately texted my entire AP biology class group text message that I had just spoken with one of the inventors of recombinant DNA about genome editing techniques and learned about G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) from the man attributed with determining their structures (this was a HUGE deal because we all struggled with concept of GPCRs the first time we learned about them)!
Inside the lab, I am just as amazed. I have a *slight* obsession with CRISPR/Cas9 and being able to actually work with the system in the lab is beyond my wildest dreams. Not to mention, I have been able to take all my textbook knowledge and apply it to actual science whether it be extracting bacterial plasmids from E. coli, digesting genomic DNA and bacterial plasmids with restriction enzymes, or running polymerase-chain reactions. And sure, there have been up-and- downs when strange ghost bands appear on my gel electrophoreses or my TIDE sequencing is totally jumbled, but as my mentor has taught me, that’s just part of real-life research. Sometimes, you do the same experiment a hundred times, tweaking small things here and there, before it works. But in the end, that just makes those correct results that much more precious to you. I have also learned about the incredible properties of hematopoietic stem cells (and how high maintenance they are!) as well as the value of cell lines such as K562s.
So as my time here as a SIMR and SPARK participant comes to a close, all I can think of is my immense gratitude. I have had the most extraordinary summer surrounded by the some of the brightest minds. I have been inspired not only by my mentor and lab members, but also by the blossoming minds of my peers. And as for my mentor, who told me his goal was to turn me into an Md/Ph.d (since I want to be a pediatric oncologist), I have to say I think he succeeded.