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Silence stretched across the room as twenty-two nervous bodies shared timid smiles and curious glances. Name tags adorning the large U-shaped table announced our name and high school to the group, and for an uncomfortable time frame were the only things communicating. What was I supposed to talk about with complete strangers? The only thing I knew about them was that we shared an interest in research.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Shaking knees, defensive posture, and shifting eyes declared that they were all just as uncomfortable as I was. Strengthened by that small piece of knowledge, I did something previously unthinkable for me. I broke the silence. My carefully crafted remark on the painful quiet successfully produced relived laughter from the assembly.
Ice now effectively broken, I began to get to know the people I would spend the next three summers with. That memorable first day at the Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy (affectionally known as VBRA) was a whirlwind of new faces and new settings. The twenty-two of us who had made it through the rigorous selection process spent most of the day soaking in the newness of where we were and what we were getting ready to do. Promising the opportunity to allow high school students to participate in professional level research, VBRA was to say the least a unique program. Based at the University of Texas Health Science Center of San Antonio, VBRA collaborated with the biomedical scientist at the center to provide rising sophomores with a challenging and educational summer internship.
Over three summers I would have the opportunity to design and present my own scientific research poster, work in a professional lab under a mentor, and plan a research project of my own. Designed to fill us with as much in-depth knowledge about many areas of research as possible, the first summer was composed of hands-on labs, educational field trips, and many lectures. I was saturated in information, absorbing everything I saw as fast as they could put new things in front of me. Four weeks into the seven was the start of our interviews for mentors for the next two summers. I learned the art of professional communication and how to prepare for an interview.
When match day came, I was thrilled to learn that I matched with the mentor I put down as my first choice. The next two summers were filled with hands on lab work. I learned how to genotype mouse DNA, run a gel, run mouse models, and many other day to day laboratory tasks. Alongside collecting data for my mentors research on treatment of Parkinson’s through gene mutation with CRISPR Cas9 protein, my fellow lab mates and I designed an experiment to compare the mutation effectiveness of truncated Cas9 and Cas9 Nickase. The Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy allowed me to fully explore my curiosity and passion for science. I will always be grateful for the opportunities it provided and the passion for research it nurtured in me.
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