In the summer of 2021, we hosted Christopher Bratcher as our Burroughs Wellcome Foundation intern. For ten weeks, Diego worked side-by-side with his mentors, Eugene Joeh and Abigail Reeves. Chris recounts his experience in this unedited blog post below.

Update June 2022: Christopher is performing summer research at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 

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MY SUMMER AT SCRIPPS RESEARCH
by Christopher Bratcher (Howard University) 
August 31, 2021

As my first internship experience ever, and my first time working in a lab, I am glad to have had the opportunity of working in the Huang Lab at the Scripps Research Institute in the summer of 2021. Before arriving in Florida, I was both excited and anxious for what was to come during my internship. I was excited because I had always wanted to work in a lab, work alongside other people who were just as passionate about science and research as I was, and learn firsthand the applications that the field of glycobiology had on the real world. However, I was anxious because I was unfamiliar with lab settings and working on my own scientific project. The farthest that I had ever gotten in terms of lab experience was a semester and a half of general chemistry lab experiments and a year and half of virtual lab experiments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, my knowledge in science had been severely limited to only what I could learn from a textbook, but I knew that at the Scripps Research Institute that that would not be enough by itself. 

During my time in the Huang lab, I knew that I would be challenged in a way that I was not prepared for during my time in undergraduate school. Handling various lab equipment, executing different protocols for experiments, understanding certain biological concepts as a Chemistry major, and managing the time I spent on my research project effectively were some of the biggest challenges I faced this past summer. There was a steep learning curve that I had to overcome during my first few weeks, there were plenty of mistakes I made while conducting my research, and there were many issues that I had to troubleshoot when going from experiment to experiment. Be that as it may, I took interest in Mia’s lab due to the fact that her lab encounters unique struggles as they seek to elucidate the functions and behavior of glycans and that there was going to inherently be various struggles present that I was going to have to face. I live by the belief that one cannot grow without struggle, and one cannot expect to succeed in life without also expecting to fail in life. I was inspired by the fact that Mia’s lab was dedicating all their time and effort towards glycobiology, a field of science that is filled with plenty of adversity and setbacks. The unique research that I was able to conduct this past summer in glycobiology, the lessons I was able to learn from my achievements and failures from my research project, and my applications of fundamental concepts of biochemistry allowed me to grow as a scientist and develop more of my potential as a future researcher in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Nevertheless, I would not have gained the proper lab experience, nor would I have progressed as far as I did with my research project this summer, without the help from my two mentors, Eugene Joeh and Abigail Reeves. Eugene and Abigail were the best mentors that I could have ever asked for. I encountered a lot of “firsts” during my internship, and having mentors was one of them. I did not know what to expect from having mentors to help guide me along my internship, but both Eugene and Abigail set the standard high for how mentors should support their mentees. They always made themselves available when I had questions to ask, they dedicated hours of their time throughout the ten weeks that I spent in the lab to teach me how to do different experiments or how to understand important biochemical concepts, they always remained patient with me throughout my entire internship, they taught me how to take ownership of my research, and they both exemplified what it meant to be passionate about learning and contributing to science. After spending ten weeks with both of them and seeing how much time and effort they put into making my internship experience be the best that it could have possibly been, I can wholeheartedly say that without Eugene and Abigail’s help that I would not have even gotten half as far as I did in my research this summer. 

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Christopher presented his research at a campus-wide symposium.

Words cannot express how thankful I am to Mia for allowing me to work in her lab. The talks that Mia and I were able to have from when I first got accepted into the SURF program up until my last day all helped to better guide me on what I wanted to do for graduate school and what career I wanted to pursue after school. I will ensure that the lessons, wisdom, and experiences that I was able to gather this past summer stay with me wherever I go in the pharmaceutical industry. Whether I end up working as an industrial pharmacist, helping to research and develop new medications, or as a community pharmacist, helping to ensure every person receives the proper medication and care that they need, I will never forget the amazing experience that I had, which was made available by Scripps Research’s SURF program, nor will I forget the amazing people that I met in the Huang lab this past summer.