My name is Ashley and I spent the summer working in Dr. Blackburn’s lab as part of a 10-week program called Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).
When I first got accepted into this program, I was both excited and intimidated at the prospect of doing research. I had no idea what it would be like, so I was excited to find out, especially in an area as critical as treating cancer. At the same time, I was worried that I’d be given some intensely difficult project and then left to my own devices. Luckily, that was not the case.
During my first few weeks in lab, I was introduced into what the Blackburn lab does, what my specific project would be, and how to go about it. The gist of my project was to test compounds called aurones on leukemia cell lines, and if that worked well, I’d go on to test them on zebrafish that were predisposed to leukemia, all with the intention that these compounds would stop the growth of cancer. The graduate student who mentored me through the project, Caroline, constantly reiterated to me that I could ask as many questions as I wanted, to her or to anyone else in the lab. Everyone was incredibly patient with me when I needed their help, and when I’d make a mistake, they would guide me in what to do to fix it and move forward. Over time, I was given more and more independence in the lab until I finally was able to go about the day on my own. By the end of my ten weeks, I felt significantly more confident in myself as a researcher than when I had started.
When all was said and done, I learned much more than I’d anticipated, not only about leukemia and chemotherapies, but also about the research process as a whole. Although my project of testing aurones produced unfavorable results the majority of time, the prospect that just a few of the many compounds I tested could go on to help patients fight their disease ultimately made the project a success.
Anyone looking to do an REU should definitely go for it, whether they know for sure that they want to work in research or not. And if that someone should have the opportunity to do it in Dr. Blackburn’s lab, they’ll be lucky to engage in a community of scientists working towards a common goal, aiding and encouraging one another in the process. If I could rate the experience, I would give it – as some people say – a ten out of ten.