Foreword by Zak Vilen:
Juliana was an undergraduate student who completed an internship in the Huang lab as part of her biotechnology program at Palm Beach State College. This internship was her first introduction to glycobiology, and we were all impressed with the passion and dedication she showed to an entirely new area of research. Unfortunately, her time in the lab was cut short by the spread of COVID19 and the temporary closure of our institute. Now she intends to enter industry where we are confident she will excel. We wish her the best of luck in her future scientific endeavors!
My Adventure at Scripps
by Juliana Simpson (Palm Beach State College)
April 22nd, 2020
My name is Juliana Simpson and for the past 16-weeks I have been an undergraduate intern in Prof. Mia Huang’s laboratory. I could not have had a more positive experience. During my first week Mia gave me the advice to ‘take charge of the experience and learn as much as you can. Let us know what you want to learn, and we would be happy to oblige.’ This valuable guidance allowed me to grow as a young scientist in this new adventure.
I was assigned to work with a graduate student, Zachary Vilen, who taught me new skills including setting up and designing experiments. He gave me a reasonable workload and tasks assigned to my experience level initially and gradually began to increase my independence in the lab as he taught me new skills. The assignments were challenging at times, but my mentor created an atmosphere that was conducive to asking questions, which I had a lot of, and constructive feedback was always provided. One of the projects we worked on was validating that a gene was knocked out in a CRISPR edited cell line We are interested in the gene in question because it’s known to be involved in extracellular signaling and promoting cancerous cell growth. It is also a biomarker for early detection of pancreatic cancer. The second project was investigating glycan binding proteins using proximity labelling techniques. Before my time at Scripps I had never heard of this. Zak, my mentor, gave me a plethora of literature on this tool and even had me present on the topic to make sure I understood it.
Before I began my internship experience, I had a limited knowledge of glycans. So, what I really valued was our team meetings every Monday. Once a month Mia held a Glycoscience Journal Club where lab members would present journal articles relating to their projects and the lab. Even though it was challenging at first to present about a topic I didn’t know a lot about, I loved to hear the members discuss with such interest what they were so passionate about and I learned so much from all of them!
Throughout my experience Mia took the time to see how my internship was progressing. I really appreciated that after letting her know my goal was to potentially work in industry, she suggested I learn to purify proteins efficiently. This was a useful skill that I can now use in both a research and industry setting. She also included me in work related discussions, and I was treated like a valuable member of the team.
Overall, my time here was an awesome learning experience and I had a lot of fun during my internship with the Huang Lab.
The experience as a whole beyond the routine was quite the challenge. Even just trying to wrap my head around the intricacies of the project – the details – was quite difficult and took more time than I expected. The practical work also was very detail-heavy and I stumbled quite a bit along the way. The confidence I had coming in, broke. If anything, what I learned most out of this experience was science is hard, really hard, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Nothing beat the satisfaction of pulling up microscope images and being able to tell a story with them. But along with that satisfaction came a much-needed humility.
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy myself. The general atmosphere of the lab was great, and the science was interesting. Working with my mentor, Geno, Mia, and the rest of the lab showed me indeed how human scientists really are, and left me with a great feeling about pursuing science as a career. Overall, the experience was incredible and at risk of being cliché, life-changing, and I am ever grateful for everyone I had the pleasure of working with in the Huang lab for making it so.