Week 11: What is going on?

Final Week! 3 minute videos due, final posters due, blog post due, virtual conference on Friday!

Blog Post 4

Talk about your experience this summer in terms of how your critical thinking abilities have developed through your summer research project. 

We have rapidly approached the end of our summer experience. During the last ten weeks, you have been working within a team to distill the primary literature and communicate messaging to other public on cardiovascular-related issues that affect your community. What have you learned from this experience? How have your critical thinking skills evolved during this time? Where do you think these skills could come into play in the future? Please reflect on your summer experience. 

Poster drafts due Friday morning!

August 3rd

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM SU – Career and Personal Statement Advice

Description:Dr. Eldrin Lewis – https://profiles.stanford.edu/intranet/eldrin-lewishttps://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bVlDHFWjR8KF6_GwQTvTBA 

Password: CVI@Lokey

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM ED Working Session

https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/j/9637959466

August 4th

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM – SU – Faculty Career Path Talks

Description:Dr. Ken Mahaffey – https://profiles.stanford.edu/kenneth-mahaffey

Dr. Ngan Huang – https://profiles.stanford.edu/ngan-huang

Dr. Kristy Red-Horse – https://profiles.stanford.edu/kristy-red-horse

Register in advance for this webinar: https://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bVlDHFWjR8KF6_GwQTvTBA  Password: CVI@Lokey

August 5th

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM – SU – Stem cell biology and genetic therapy

Dr. Patricia Nguyen – https://profiles.stanford.edu/patricia-nguyen

https://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bVlDHFWjR8KF6_GwQTvTBA 
Password: CVI@Lokey

August 7th

10:00 AM – 2:00 PM: PAECER/SURE Virtual Conference

4:00 PM – 6:30 PM : SU – Final Presentations and Farewell Ceremony

2:00-4:00 pm – Student Presentations 4:00pm – Student Acknowledgements 4:15pm – Closing Talk by Dr. Joseph Wu https://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bVlDHFWjR8KF6_GwQTvTBA Password: CVI@Lokey

Blog Post 4 due!

An Internship That Taught me Science, Networking, and Most Importantly – Confidence

By: Alexandra Filipkwoski

“Dear Alexandra, please find that attached letter of acceptance into our summer program at Vanderbilt. From, Dr. Joey Barnett.”

My heart dropped. I had to sit down and re-read the email to indeed make sure this wasn’t some nicely worded rejection letter. 

I had done it – I had gotten accepted to my first research internship. 

Throughout the PAECER – SURE Cardiovascular research internship I have taken away plethora of skills; however, three of the most prominent takeaways were my newfound ability to communicate science to different audiences, my ability to remain resilient despite facing criticism from content experts, and my ability to tackle “imposter syndrome” through communicating with professionals I aspire to be like. 

This summer I have started to value the importance of scientific communication and now believe it is one of the most unappreciated but most important parts of science. I used to believe that the best presenters convey their information via lengthy paragraphs with complex jargon – I thought the fancier you sounded, the better communicator you ‘technically’ were; however, this is far from the truth. Through creating a video animation directed at a lay audience of women who are or want to be pregnant I started to devalue the complexity of scientific terminology, and instead embrace simplifying science. 

Furthermore, through making my video I was able to collaborate with content experts such as Dr. Ann Kavanaugh, where I received an honest, helpful and much-needed experience with constructive criticism. To elaborate, my research team and I submitted our video for commentary, and being the rookie scientific researcher I am, I believed that we would receive cliché comments such as “nice job girls” or “looking forward to seeing what else you girls do with the video” – however, this was far from the truth. Dr. Ann Kavanaugh emailed my research team and I back with a 3 page document with a minute by minute breakdown of flaws from our video. In this breakdown, Dr. Kavanaugh essentially told us that she didn’t think our initial topic of smoking and development of congenital heart had enough correlation. Dr. Kavanaugh suggested that we explore the correlation between maternal smoking and preterm births. This being said, my research team had to edit a significant portion of our original video, adjust our survey, edit our learning objective in order to look at maternal smoking through the lens of preterm birth. I have experienced adversity and resilience in sports, friendships, schoolwork, but never in terms of scientific research. Thus, this adversity allowed me to learn how to respond and edit my research after receiving criticism, all the while maintaining confidence in my abilities as a blossoming scientist.

Additionally, this summer I was able to start to tackle a lingering problem called “Imposter Syndrome” by regularly communicating with researchers and doctors, which helped ignite a sense of belonging in the field of science. Initially when I started the PAECER-SURE internship I thought that networking and talking with colleagues would be a ‘secondary’ benefit to the program; however, it ended up being my greatest takeaway. By communicating with the likes of Dr. Joey Barnett, Dr. Kendra Oliver, Dr. Andre Churchwell, and other elite researchers and doctors from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern and Boston University I have become confident in my career path to become a physician. I never thought I would be smart enough to work alongside such great minds; however, this was a completely false narrative I had made up for myself. Additionally, because I was given the opportunity to converse with these professionals I believe I have gained a greater network and potential mentors to help guide me on my career path to become a doctor.  

In conclusion, I came into the PAECER-SURE Cardiovascular research internship thinking that I would maybe learn some new wet lab techniques, whether that be in person or online; however I came out with new knowledge on scientific communication, cardiovascular disease, and most importantly a newfound confidence in myself as an aspiring physician. I am so grateful for the NIH, American Heart Association, Dr. Joey Barnett, Dr. Kendra Oliver and everyone at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine who were advocates for continuing the program online. 

I came into this summer intimated by the accolades and research experiences of my colleagues. I came into this summer shy and scared to talk to the professionals I aspired to be. However, I am leaving this internship having completed my first research project and a published scientific video. Above all, I am leaving this internship with an undeniable confidence in my career path – now when people ask what profession I am pursuing I won’t answer “I think I want to be a doctor” instead I will say “I will be a doctor.”

Analyzing Medicare Advantage Cost-Sharing for Cardiac Rehabilitation Services

By: Daniella Pena

This summer I worked on a research project analyzing Medicare Advantage (MA) cost-sharing for cardiac rehabilitation services. These services are focused on helping heart attack survivors and other patients with severe cardiovascular disease resume normal functioning after a cardiovascular event. The main component of cardiac rehabilitation is exercise training, but nutritional education and counseling have been incorporated in recent years. Life expectancies greatly increase when patients participate in these programs, and their risk of having another heart attack is significantly lowered. However, very few patients who are eligible for these services participate in cardiac rehabilitation. A common theory and concern as to why this was the case was high cost-sharing amongst MA plans that cover these services. Medicare is often the only insurance that typical patients needing these services have, therefore if the out of pocket expenses associated with receiving these services was too high they might choose to forgo this treatment. Therefore, my project focused on analyzing the different cost-sharing requirements across MA plans and compared these amounts to the nondiscriminatory cost-sharing limits set by CMS. I used R Studio to analyze data from the years 2016-2020 and my main findings were as follows: copay amounts for cardiac rehabilitation services and intensive cardiac rehabilitation services averaged $25 although these plans could have charged up to $50 and $100 respectively, coinsurance remained constant at 18% for all services types throughout this time frame. These results indicate that cost-sharing is set lower than considered necessary to make these services affordable for patients. Therefore, there are other barriers to treatment that are causing few patients to enroll in these programs. As we learned throughout the summer, there are a lot of factors that affect health, and racial disparities are very common in medicine. Minorities are likely to have lower incomes and therefore reduced access to nutritious foods and health care, which contribute strongly to the negative health outcomes observed in these populations. This is a widespread and persistent problem that severely needs to be addressed, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with people who are well aware of these issues and trying their best to do everything in their power to help in whatever way they can. We’ve had a lot of presentations that outline these disparities and factors that contribute to the inequality observed in health care, so in learning that I’ve personally begun to view everything through a different lense. I have started to look more deeply into the numbers, but also possible explanations for those numbers, and I’ve put a picture together of what those numbers represent. My critical thinking skills have evolved a lot, and I feel that I can thoroughly analyze problems with a few different perspectives instead of one. I plan to use all that I’ve learned about health disparities to inform policies I hope to write one day. This has been an enriching experience, and I hope to continue exploring the topics covered, while also thinking of ways to address these problems on a large scale.

Week Ten: What is going on?

Experimental Design and Hypothesis Testing

iBiology

Let’s Experiment – Experimental design and hypothesis testing

What is the scientific method? How do you ask a “good” scientific questions? What characteristics go into creating a logically sound hypothesis? A well-designed and constructed experiment will be robust under questioning and will focus criticism on conclusions, rather than potential experimental errors. Sound experimental design should follow the established scientific protocols and generate useful statistical comparisons. Using a customized version of iBiology’s “Let’s experiment,” scientists from a variety of backgrounds will give concrete steps and advice to help you build a framework for how to design experiments in biological research. We will use case studies to make the abstract more tangible. In science, there is often no simple right answer. However, with this course, students can develop a general approach to experimental design and hypothesis testing. After completing this course, students will be able to analyze the logic structure hypothesis, define the various components of an experiment, and generate an independent hypothesis.

NOTE: The Experimental Design and Hypothesis Testing working session has been moved to Aug 3rd from 1:00-3:00 PM CT

Blog Post 4

Talk about your experience this summer in terms of how your critical thinking abilities have developed through your summer research project. 

We have rapidly approached the end of our summer experience. During the last ten weeks, you have been working within a team to distill the primary literature and communicate messaging to other public on cardiovascular-related issues that affect your community. What have you learned from this experience? How have your critical thinking skills evolved during this time? Where do you think these skills could come into play in the future? Please reflect on your summer experience. 

Poster drafts due Friday morning!

July 27th

9:45 AM – Pre-meeting chats

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Program virtual “huddle”

https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/j/9637959466

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM SU – Using biology and bioinformatics to find a treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension

Dr. Marlene Rabinovitch – https://profiles.stanford.edu/intranet/marlene-rabinovitch

Register in advance for this webinar:
https://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bVlDHFWjR8KF6_GwQTvTBA
Password: CVI@Lokey

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM GraphPad 

https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/j/9637959466

July 28th

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Free Yoga Session

OPTIONAL: 11:30 AM-12:30 PM – SU – Narrative/Abstract Workshop

Description:
https://stanford.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcudO6orz4sH9GXX3qkrlhuw87lrztWqzc4
Password:  310484

Tuesday July 28th12:30 pm EST – Narrative/Abstract Workshop (Password – 310484) – Amanda Chase, PhD. – This is your chance to get peer feedback on your personal statement, statement of purpose, research abstract, or any other piece of written material you’re working on. Please come prepared to share the document you would like feedback on. Also, note this will be a multi-site event, so you’ll get a change to interact with the students in similar programs at the other institutions whose events you’ve been attending.

July 29th

10:00AM -11:00 AM: Data check-in

https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/j/9637959466

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM – SU – Stem cell biology and genetic therapy

Dr. Patricia Nguyen – https://profiles.stanford.edu/patricia-nguyen

https://stanford.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bVlDHFWjR8KF6_GwQTvTBA 
Password: CVI@Lokey

2:30-3:30 PM: Conversation with Andre Churchwell

Topic: Conversation with Andre Churchwell Time: Jul 29, 2020 02:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada) Join Zoom Meeting https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/j/95498575071?pwd=N2x1U1JBMGVMVzM1NTVlaWlOYTZydz09 Meeting ID: 954 9857 5071 Password: 477042 One tap mobile +16465588656,,95498575071# US (New York) +13462487799,,95498575071# US (Houston)

July 30th

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: BU PD: Managing Up

Description:Facilitator: Jessica L Fetterman PhD (BUSM)

Hi there,

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.
When: Jul 30, 2020 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting:
https://bostonu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAvcOqurTkiHtaMomQQ68im8gJWc5b0yS7S

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM : Experimental Design Working Session

This session has been rescheduled for Monday Aug 3rd from 1:00-3:00 PM CT

If you would like to meet about your posters, please drop into the Zoom meeting on the Slack channel

RECORDING: https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/rec/share/9cFUMvbQzUBLHY2Ux33NfPJ7IMfYT6a81XIeqfAOyBypW6p29a-PoxiUcsAduj13

July 31st

10:00 AM -11:00 AM: Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt

https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/j/9637959466

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Session with Ivor Benjamin

Facilitator : Ivor Benjamin MD FAHA

Hi there,

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.
When: Jul 31, 2020 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting:
https://bostonu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMqcemopzwrHtTOa7aTlTxBt0O1SELvLvB_

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting

1:00-3:00PM – Practice Session: Poster and 3-min presentation

https://vanderbilt.zoom.us/my/kendraoliverhttps://vanderbilt.zoom.us/my/kendraoliver

Scientific Self-Expression: How My Journey Led to My Research Aspirations

By: Ximena Leon

My journey towards scientific research has never been a clear path. I was introduced to scientific research my freshman year of college, merely three years ago. I was invited to join an Introduction to Biology Research course at my community college taught by Dr. Elvira Eivazova. I was enrolled in the Pre-Health Professions Associate of Science degree track, so I figured it would be a good idea to get involved in research, even though I did not really know what research was exactly. At the time, I was not completely satisfied with pursuing a career in medicine, but I decided to continue working towards that path until I figured out what I really wanted to do. My main goal has always been to make a significant impact on others through whatever career I chose to pursue, so I decided to just follow my heart with the opportunities that came my way. My professor invited me to join her as a TA for a week-long HHMI SEA-PHAGES training workshop where we learned scientific research pedagogy and carried out isolation and characterization of bacteriophages. As the year went on and I worked as a Biology Research TA, I began realizing how much I loved individual aspects of research—mentoring students, working in the lab, writing papers, presenting research, thinking critically, and the list goes on. Still, I did not want to let go of the career path that I had been set on for so long, so I considered earning an M.D./Ph.D. I started seeking out summer research internships and came across the AspirnautTM program at Vanderbilt University, a program that Dr. Eivazova also recommended for me. It was that summer where my mind was changed. After working under the mentorship of Dr. Elena Pokidysheva and being exposed to a holistic approach in research, I knew that I wanted to incorporate scientific research into whatever career path I chose. Towards the end of the program, I decided to meet with Dr. Elizabeth Bowman, who has now become one of my biggest mentors. She explained to me everything about research and graduate school, and I was able to meet with Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students to learn more about the individual career paths. All my interests, passions, and goals lined up with a career in scientific research. I knew then and there that I would pursue a Ph.D. I got involved in research at my new university with my mentor, Dr. Jose Barbosa, and I began speaking to students about getting involved in undergraduate research, became President of my university’s Biology Honor Society, and, now, I am a research mentor for a high school student who is pursuing a career in medicine.  

So where does self-expression in scientific research come about in my scientific journey?

I am able to express myself through Molecular and Cellular Biology research, but where my biggest passion in scientific research lies is in mentoring students. My research mentors, Dr. Eivazova, Dr. Pokidysheva, Dr. Bowman, and Dr. Barbosa were the mentors I needed to navigate my future in science. I saw their passions for scientific research and their hearts for mentoring students, and I found that I wanted to impact students just as they had impacted me. As a student from both an underrepresented and disadvantaged background who did not know a career in scientific research was an attainable profession, I have found it incredibly important to mentor students who may otherwise never get exposed to scientific research. I want to make sure that I can give students, like me, an equal opportunity to consider and experience a career in scientific research through mentorship programs and internship programs for high school and undergraduate students from underrepresented and/or disadvantaged backgrounds. Though I have mastered many skills in the laboratory, I hope to learn more about skills in scientific communication that will help me in my own research, presentations, teaching, mentoring, and reaching audiences beyond the scientific community. The PAECER program has allowed me to gain extensive knowledge on equity, equality, and scientific communication that I will continue to learn more about to establish my future goals of impacting science and future scientists.

What I have learned along this journey is that everything falls into place if you work hard and follow your heart.

Neuroplasticity as it Pertains to the Black Experience: My Niche in Science

By: Guyton Harvey

Science has always been a part of my life and my interests, but only once I was able to relate it to my experiences did it become a part of my identity

My first research experience was the summer before my freshman year of college, when I was invited to participate in the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) at Morehouse college, an HBCU.  At the time, I had less interest in research and more interest in getting to know who my classmates at Morehouse would be.  When I originally applied to the program, I had indicated that I was interested in music, so the director placed me with a mentor who was studying traditional African instruments, a project the director knew would engage me.  I arrived at Morehouse that summer and had a truly transformative experience participating in MSEIP.  My project was to create electrified variations of the nyatiti and kalimba for the purpose of introducing aspects of African culture to a wider American audience.  At MSEIP, I got to explore my interests in music, was introduced to global perspectives and empowered by discussions on minority participation in science, and had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with engineering materials.  This was the first time I had had the opportunity to consider ways of increasing minority engagement and representation in science and the effect it can have on communities.  By the end of high school, I had become aware of health disparity and begun to think about the ways in which minorities are impacted by systemic racism and inequities in medicine, but I had not yet considered that those inequities go beyond just medicine and medical policy.  I realized that it is also important that researchers have diverse perspectives and an understanding of the role their research plays outside of the scientific community.  From this program, I developed a fascination with research that addresses the unique health issues minorities disproportionately face and formally began my scientific journey.

At the beginning of my senior year of highschool, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  This prompted me to switch my intended major from journalism to psychology in my college applications because I wanted to better understand her condition and how I could help. I had recently taken a social psychology course and had developed an interest in how the brain works as well as the factors which contribute to our perception and understanding of the world.  By the time I arrived at Morehouse for the first semester of my Freshman year, I had convinced myself that I wanted to be a clinical psychologist because I thought that would be the best way for me to address Black mental health issues.  Around my second semester, after I had taken my first college biology course and a course which focused on Psychology as a natural science, I realized that my interest was more in neurological diseases than mental health.  I wanted to be able to look at quantitative data and use that to address the disparity in neurological diseases, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease.  Aside from my general interest in the nervous system, what drove me toward neuroscience and away from psychology was that neuroscience felt more orderly, perhaps even more explanatory.  Neuroscience gave me the ability to point to specific mechanisms of biological homeostasis and more confidently justify my understanding of science than psychology, which at times felt incredibly unpredictable and left a lot more open to interpretation.  So I switched my major to chemistry (Morehouse does not have a neuroscience major and I was slightly more interested in Chemistry than Biology) and went about the next years of my education pursuing more molecular explanations for neurological phenomena I encountered.  

I began engaging in research more seriously in the summer after my freshman year, when I took an opportunity at the NIH National Institute of Nursing Research, which I enjoyed a lot.  This experience was followed by another experience in an organic chemistry lab at Morehouse which I also enjoyed and soon, I found myself deeply entrenched in research, which prompted me to consider translational medicine.  I could not imagine my career in medicine without research and I could not imagine my research career without practicing medicine. I quickly realized that organic chemistry research, as interesting as it was, was not the path I wanted to take because it felt too detached from my objective, which was to be able to address neurological diseases that disproportionately affect minority populations.  So, I applied to labs and REUs which allowed me to study neurological diseases specifically. One program, the Neurological Surgery Summer Student Program (NSSSP) at the University of Washington (UW), seemed to match that description and that became my ideal summer opportunity.

I was not accepted to the NSSSP, however, my application was forwarded to someone at the Center for Neurotechnology (CNT) at UW and I was extended a spot in their REU that summer.  The CNT is more or less exclusively dedicated to creating interdisciplinary interventions to address neurological diseases.  This was exactly the type of environment I was hoping to be able to learn in. My project was to study whether a promising experimental spinal cord injury treatment, which had allowed for the regaining of mobility in some experiments, was inducing neuroplasticity.  I conducted in vivo electrophysiology experiments, did immunohistochemistry, and was introduced to very basic principles of surgery.  I enjoyed working in that lab immensely and I knew that I would want to study neuroplasticity and neurodegeneration in my career;  neuroplasticity was the nexus between my interest in scientific discovery and my interest in disability and rehabilitation medicine.  

Once I became more knowledgeable about neuroplasticity and the different factors which can influence it which include, among others, psychological and socioeconomic conditions, I began to relate neuroplasticity to my experience as a Black man in America.  I became curious about how the unique psychological and socioeconomic conditions that Black people face could affect mechanisms of neuroplasticity and neurodegeneration.  I wondered if this could be a potential explanation for Black americans’ disproportionate susceptibility to hereditary neurological diseases.  Of course, I know it would be too reductionist to say that is the cause for such diseases and that I have a lot I need to learn before I could confidently make such a claim, but this inspired me to consider experimental models to test this theory.  For one, I would need to create a model for the conditions Black people face in America, which in and of itself is nearly impossible, but I could model emotions like stress and depression, which Black americans are at higher risk for than other demographics (Williams 2000) (Rodriquez et al., 2018).  And finally, suppose there is a link; what treatment, if any, could possibly undo the damage years of systemic racism can have on neuroplasticity and how can I, as a physician-scientist, equitably develop and employ such a treatment?  I am doubtful such a treatment could exist and even if it did, I feel that would be addressing the symptoms of injustices in America and not the injustices themselves.  Nonetheless, I hope to work towards answering some of these questions in my career.

Citation:

Rodriquez EJ, Livaudais-Toman J, Gregorich SE, Jackson JS, Nápoles AM, Pérez-Stable EJ. Relationships between allostatic load, unhealthy behaviors, and depressive disorder in U.S. adults, 2005–2012 NHANES. Preventive Medicine. 2018;110:9-15. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.02.002

Williams DR. Race, stress, and mental health: Findings from the Commonwealth Minority Health Survey. In: Hogue C, Hargraves M, Scott-Collins K, editors. Minority Health in America: Findings and Policy Implications from the Commonwealth Fund Minority Health Survey. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press; 2000. pp. 209–243.

Finding Your Niche

By: Kristen Smith

It has always been instilled in me the act of service. From establishing my own community service club on Tougaloo College campus in 2018 to serving free lunch meals at my local community kitchen, I am always finding a way to engage in community service. I have always been interested in the healthcare field because it directly revolves around being able to serve. Self-expression can be defined as “the expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, or ideas.” I would undoubtedly say that science has been my act of self-expression for me. Not only because it continuously allows me the opportunity to become more knowledgable, but also because it plays such a substantial role in our current lives and future.

Although there have been challenges, such as adjusting to the science curriculum of a Biology major at Tougaloo College, I have learned many valuable lifelong skills and lessons. One of the most important skills I have been able to develop are my time management skills, which will be used for the remainder of my matriculation through school. Last summer, I was able to conduct biomedical research in a Pharmacology Lab. Working directly in a science research environment, I believe I was able to strengthen my critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving skills. However, I would like to master these skills even more. Though my journey is far from the end, I am grateful I have been able to find a subject that interests me, a subject that is always changing. Not simply changing, but continuously changing for the better. Science is an ever-changing topic that is always in the works of improving what we currently use, that is what completely fascinates me. I am an advocate for STEM programs; these can help engage young students matriculate into the science community and steer them away from distractions. Science STEM programs are amazing because they can keep students actively focused on topics that will always be in their lives.

Of all of the circumstances I have encountered, during my journey, science has kept me going. I would say that science means more than an act of self-expression; it has kept me grounded, focused, and eager to continue. When I faced adversity, I noticed that science information has always been able to catch my attention and help me realign my focus on pursuing my career in the healthcare field. Because I am interested in the healthcare industry and its future, I am thankful for STEM programs, such as these, Vanderbilt PAECER scholars program, and Tougaloo College SLAM programs for high school students, which can help motivate students to pursue science. One thing I have learned the most from talking to my peers and family members, mostly around my age, is that there is no rush to the finish line. After hearing all of the positive news in science, sadly, some of my closest peers have received rejection letters from medical schools, dental schools, research programs, etc. Science is excellent, but there will be disappointments and adverse research outcomes, but we the chance to keep going. I have learned that it is all about choosing the right “niche,” regardless of what others around you may think. Lastly, there is an imaginary “race” to the finish line, but in reality, the direction you are going will always be more important than speed.

Finding My Niche in Medicine

By: Madelyn Terhune

When I was younger, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals so caring for them felt like the logical choice. High school changed that. I’ve always liked science, but love for it grew when I took a medical science course in my freshman year at Henrietta Lacks High Health and Bioscience High School, a STEM Magnet School.  In that class I was exposed to so many new and interesting topics. It was my first introduction to medicine.

Throughout high school I took a wide range of science classes like advanced physiology and biotechnology. I received a considerable amount of hands on experience and gained so much knowledge. For example, in my cellular and molecular biology course, I mastered many lab techniques like gel electrophoresis, polymerase chain reaction, and western blotting. However, nursing courses were my favorite.

In my junior and senior years, I took several courses while becoming CPR certified. Specifically, my junior year was filled with courses preparing me to become a CNA and my senior year I worked in a local nursing home. This experience solidified my choice to work with people, instead of animals. It had such a great experience helping and it was heartwarming when the residents and their families would thank me for my work and service.

I knew, soon after my time there, I want to make a difference in people’s lives.

Around this time my mom was diagnosed with tachycardia. It scared me and that fear encouraged me to learn as much as I could about tachycardias and the heart in general. Exploring the heart was fascinating and eye-opening and I grew to love the intricacies of such an important muscle.  That’s when I realized cardiology would be my career of choice.

During my anatomy course I diligently studied the heart and enjoyed the opportunities I had to dissect so many. I found the dissections to be particularly interesting and that’s when it hit me, I could become a heart surgeon. Science affords so many options to choose from and I’m excited about what I have yet to explore.

Another reason the fueled my interest in medicine is the distrust of doctors in minority communities. African American bodies have been used for medical experiments without their consent for generations or been denied care because of the color of their skin. My own high school was named for an African American woman whose cells were taken from her for medical research (and still used to his day) while being denied the care needed to save her life. Still today, many of my African American friends and family have experienced either some sort of prejudice or mistreatment when dealing with doctors.

When I think back over my life, I have never had a nonwhite doctor myself. It’s a problem that I can’t find a doctor that looks like me. Children of color should be able to see doctors of all races and gender so they can see what’s possible for them in the future. I want to make a change in order to give hope and build a better relationship between doctors and people of color. Science will give me an opportunity to learn my craft, being an  African American doctor will allow me to make a difference in my community.

I AM NEEDED.

By: Vivian Iloabuchi

My interest in science and healthcare stems from growing up in an environment where people could not give me answers to the questions I had. For as long as I could remember, my mother never lived a sedentary lifestyle, but she did not necessarily have the healthiest one either. As a child, I never considered her meals unhealthy, everyone in the family ate the same Nigerian meals. Life became very confusing when my mother suddenly started exercising so much more and making her meals separately. I would eventually discover that my mother had been diagnosed with prediabetes. I had so many questions that no one seemed to know the answer to. How had we missed all the signs? Why my mother? Is this permanent? Could this have been prevented? Could this be passed down to me like eye defects?

Moving to the United States for a college education and participating in programs like the AHA-HBCU Scholars’ program opened my eyes to a plethora of issues such as health disparities and medical racism. While I now feel more confident about the science behind my questions, I have more questions now such as what I can do to help. In the past year, I have seen clearly the need for diverse voices in medicine. I have found my niche and I am sure that my voice matters. It gave me the mindset that I have the ability to fight for necessary change. I will be a physician someday, potentially in the field of cardiology. It is my intention to build on the work of others to find ways that ensure life is less cruel to people who suffer from heart diseases; especially people who are disproportionately affected by it. Also, I would like to be an important figure in driving the change of policies that perpetuate health inequities.

This summer has helped me feel more comfortable when communicating the science to different target populations. It is challenging to know that at this level I am only qualified speak on preventative measures that protect against heart disease and that I can only volunteer at organizations that care about good health policies. However, I am taking things one step at a time. I am committed to this journey that my passion for science will take me on. For heart diseases, I am constantly looking to learn and conduct research, For the political change I seek, I am putting in the work to learn more about Health Policy in Public Health via internships and masters’ programs. Science has been my form of self-expression since it showed me that I am needed.

Freedom of Choice Unlike Any Other Career

Br: Grace Garrett

As I was growing up and encouraged to explore career areas, I didn’t realize at the time how wide of a field science is. Current scientific research can be used for application in all aspects of life and this limitless quality is one of my favorite things about science today. I enjoy how I can relate my curiosities emanating from a personal connection or academic interest to work. Two scientific areas in particular I have enjoyed learning about include reproductive health and genetics, the former being a personal connection and the latter an academic fascination. 

Reproductive health is always something I have been conscious of, as my existence started with issues my parents were having conceiving and carrying a baby. When I finally arrived, they named me “Grace,” considering me a gift from God. At my undergraduate institution, my independent research project examines the influence of the intestinal microbiome on fertility. I am intrigued by the many factors influencing reproductive health and appreciate the vulnerability necessitated by disclosure of struggles. Holding compassionate space for people to meet that vulnerability is a tool I have practiced by my experience volunteering and conducting patient interviews, but also by listening to my parents. Since this difficult reality is so integral to who I am, I am aware listening to people’s experiences can make the difference for existence of life. This could be the creation of a child, or the emotional well-being of potential parents. As naturally as empathy comes to me, actually tackling the biochemical issues at the root of the problem can be daunting. I think more time in the lab will help me trust I have effectively controlled for other contributing factors, allowing me to focus in on the targeted experimental modulation. However, I also hope to experiment with clinical research and see if I enjoy attempting to understand and solve issues from a different type of approach. I am fairly new to doing basic science, wet-lab research, but research in my other interest would likely take form computationally. 

My interest in genetics really took off in the first principles of genetics class I took, and the paired wet-lab experience was one of my favorites among all my other science classes. I really started to see where genetics could take me this past semester when I enrolled in an advanced genetics course. Our lab was computational, and it provided me a foundational knowledge of python, writing and running code to answer scientific questions, and how to utilize genome browser services. During the semester, our professor introduced us to two statistical models, which I enjoyed because it came close to math. I have enjoyed and excelled in math throughout my education, but I thought by choosing science I would have to give it up. However, these models provided a possible avenue for me to return to math in science. This was reinforced when attending a talk by Dr. Elsie Ross from Stanford University who discussed her research using machine learning to assess which patients might be at risk for pulmonary arterial disease. This type of research compiles different sets of data like the electronic health record and genetic sequencing into the model to create an overall assessment of risk. This is one of the most exciting research talks I have heard to date as it felt like a return to calculus (which I loved) with its output – the area under the curve (a key part of calculus) indicating the model’s accuracy. In the future, I hope to explore using large data sets and statistical modeling as an area of research and take advantage of my math skills. 

I appreciate how the field of science allows me to delve into my curiosities and passions wholeheartedly. I also hope to encourage others who are unsure science’s applicability to their passions, like my high-school self who thought she had to give up math, that there is almost certainly a connection. At this point in my training, I want to continue exploring different ways of approaching problems I’m interested in to find what I enjoy and am most effective in.