Week 5: Lessons learned
Hey Scientistas! So the summer’s winding down now, and my internship actually ended on Thursday, August 9th. There will be a nice dinner reception for all the SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) students at Harvard Medical School, which will then be followed by everyone’s poster presentations. This past week my co-workers, Sarah and John, and I have been working hard to consolidate all our work into a concise, 3ft x 4ft poster. I’m really excited to present what I’ve been working on!
Overall, this summer has been a great learning experience. I didn’t just learn about the Barbados Nutrition Study (BNS). I learned how to think critically like a scientist and how to conduct good research. Working at my job taught me how to look at a piece of data and see the important connections about the lives it represents. Dr. Galler has been a wonderful mentor. I think watching her work really gave me insight into how a successful, longitudinal study works—especially one that’s lasted for so long! By having repeated observations of the same variables over a long period of time, you can make valuable
conclusions about the adult effects of an early stressor. My project with the prenatally malnourished rats somewhat models the participants of the BNS.
Given the many players in the study, communication is absolutely essential. E-mails should be answered almost immediately, and no phone calls should be left without a follow-up. Meetings are also necessary for regular updates. My co-workers and
I would sit in on the weekly meetings at Judge Baker’s Children Center. We gave mini-presentations on our work to the other doctors. They seemed really enlightened when we presented our point of view. For example, my presentation on epigenetics and mental health piqued the interest of one psychiatrist interested in maternal depression. I also attended a separate meeting for the rat studies, from which I finally understood my position in the study as a whole. The epigenetic works on the rats are the preclinical, or “pre-human,” studies. The idea is to use the results as a sort of guide for when we do epigenetic work on blood samples from the Barbadian cohort. Essentially, we want to see if the same genes in rats will be expressed similarly in a human population. When you hear the work of others, you see how your own work fits in with the greater purpose of the research. The meetings are not only informative, but also motivating.
Finally, a vital factor in research is the curiosity and passion that fuels it. Dr. Galler has been able to continue the BNS for 42 years simply because her findings led to more unanswered questions that she wanted to answer. She is very, verydriven and even stubborn at times (“Ask nicely three times. If there’s still no response, then get down to business,” says Dr. Galler). I hope after this summer I will successfully follow her main advice: to go where your passion leads you and not plan the future too far ahead because you never know where the chances of life will take you.
Hope you’ve all enjoyed your summers so far, Scientistas! Riana, over and out.
About the Blogger
Riana Balahadia is studying Human Evolutionary Biology with a secondary in Global Health & Health Policy and pre-med in Kirkland House at Harvard (class of 2014). During the semester she enjoys singing with the Veritones, a premier co-ed a capella group, and planning activities for Harvard Philippine Forum and the Undergraduate Global Health Forum. This summer she will be living in Winthrop as part of the SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) Program hosted by the Global Health Institute. Her mentor is Dr. Janina R. Galler, who has been working on the Barbados Nutrition Study (BNS) for the past 40 years. Riana's primary research will be on linking malnutrition and epigenetics to mental health, and then comparing that information with the BNS
cohort in Barbados.