By JT Stranix
I come from an accomplished family. My Mom is a CPA, my Dad is a civil engineer, and my younger siblings all do well in school. No one, though, has any affinity for my favorite subject - Chemistry. I am a biochemistry major in my third year at the University of Virginia. While it is certainly true that I am the leading biochemist in my family, I never could have imagined having the opportunity to work at the NIH. That all changed two summers ago when I was accepted into the program for a summer internship position in the NINDS. I had the opportunity to work in the Stroke Neuroscience Unit of the NINDS, working on the cutting edge of modern stroke research. I returned to the same unit this past summer and won an award for summer student research excellence.
My current research involves an enzyme called myeloperoxidase. This enzyme has been shown to predict heart attack and vascular dysfunction. I am investigating the behavior of this enzyme in regard to stroke by measuring plasma levels of the enzyme at certain time points following onset. I have submitted an abstract of my results to the American Academy of Neurology and I plan to continue my work this coming May with the hope of publishing my results in a medical journal.
When I am not running experiments for my research or reading related journal articles, I help out around the lab by processing new blood samples that come in from patients. I have learned how to read CT and MRI brain scans and measure lesion sizes. I attend our weekly rounds at Suburban Hospital where physicians present interesting new cases and we analyze the actions taken by the attending doctors. On top of this, I have recently become involved with another research project dealing with the use of plasma biomarkers as indicators for stroke.
I have been able to become involved in all of these aspects of our lab through the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Alison Baird. She has a very demanding schedule, and yet she still takes the time to make sure I'm doing alright with my own work and that I have everything I need. She has been a great role model for me these past two summers. The lab experience I have received from Dr. Baird and the rest of the Stroke Neuroscience Unit has led me to develop a genuine interest in academic medicine.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give about working at the NIH is to always ask questions about what is going on around you. This institution is on the forefront of practically every research field. If there is a particular area of science you find interesting, there is a very strong chance you will find an expert in the field working close by who would gladly answer your questions and appreciate your interest in what they do. The environment there is directed at increasing one's knowledge of the world. Working there has given me the chance to do just that on a magnitude I never previously thought possible.
I grew out of my Top Gun phase when I was about 12 years old and since then have wanted to be a surgeon instead of a fighter pilot. The NIH summer program has changed the way I look at medicine. Working there has fostered a deep passion for research and I am applying to joint M.D./Ph.D. programs in addition to regular medical schools. While I certainly want to be a doctor, I now want to be a medical scientist as well.