Q+A with junior Theodore Knowles, research intern at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Junior microbiology major Theodore Knowles completed a second summer in Dr. Jie Shen’s Alzheimers Research Lab. He was continuing his work on a project attempting to undercover certain genes that would positively or negatively affect Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (FAD) in Drosophila Melanogaster.

Describe the job:
I initially worked with two genes, but as my research progressed, the lab allowed me to pursue other genes I believed could be responsible for FAD. My daily research work involved many different parts. I needed to breed the Drosophila, which is used because of the rapidity of their life cycle until the specific RNAi knockdown we induced in them were present. 

When RNAi was present, we would sort and collect the Drosophila based on sex, eye color, or the presence of a balancer chromosome. After they were collected, they would be put into vials and maintained until the fly equivalent of old age. Then we would perform basic histology on them to produce the end product of sections of the brain that are only nanometers in size. 

These were used to count the number of vacuoles in the brain, which signify damage caused by the mutations we put into place. To check that the Drosophila did, in fact, have the specific gene knocked down via RNAi, basic wet-lab protocols were performed, such as RNA extractions, cDNA synthesis, and RT-qPCR. I did not have any positive results after two summers, but I truly understand the dedication a scientist must have to the lab as well as the quest for new avenues of inquiry into the causes of such a devastating disease.

How did this experience impact you personally and professionally?
This experience helped me realize that science is indeed what I want to do with the rest of my life. I find it thrilling that you can genetically modify anything with today’s science technology and are able to see the phenotypic effects of your actions. The protocols that I learned in the Shen lab are unique and state of the art, I was so fortunate to be able to put them into practice and I plan on using them for my own research in the future

What were some of the most rewarding parts of this experience?
The most rewarding part of this internship was solidifying the bonds I created in my first summer at the Shen lab. The PI and many postdocs were dedicated to helping me improve as a scientist and guiding me to what path I should take after my time at IU is over. They gave me their own tales of how they became scientists and how they decided to do what they are doing now. I will forever be grateful to that brilliant lab for what they have taught me and the connections we made together.

What did you learn about the industry?

Science laboratories have a stigma of being quiet, dull, and strict, but my experience this summer has shown me that that is not the case. Yes, there are moments when the lab is quiet, but those are mainly times when all the lab members are focused on accomplishing their experiments to the best of their abilities. Nevertheless, the Shen lab was lively and wholesome with conversations about experiments buzzing through the post-docs benches and advice being given to the interns by their senior scientists on how they can improve.

One thing I realized this summer was that science has a lot to do with an apprenticeship. In a blacksmithing apprenticeship, the master teaches, and the disciple learns. This goes on until the disciple knows more than the master and becomes a master himself. This is very similar to how the scientific world works as well. If you listen to all the advice and constructive criticism the PI, post-docs, and all other senior lab members give you, you will indeed become the master of your trade.

What do you wish you would have known before you started this position? Or what would you tell others before they start an internship?

Be patient and opportunities will come, be open-minded to those opportunities and they will be fruitful. My dad used to say all good things come in threes. I use the saying in everyday terms, but it can also be implemented to internships. The first good news is getting accepted into the internship program, the second is getting the job done at your internship, and then the third is getting recommendations by impressed coworkers who want you in the future. This cycle usually repeats itself over and over until you’re happy where you are. Internships are crucial for setting your career ahead of you not only because they give you connections you can rely on but also that they give you plentiful opportunities.

By Maureen Langley
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