Quick Introduction and Update
It's been a while since I've written a blog for CNR! Most of all, it's a bit weird to say that I'm blogging as an alumni and not as a PAL anymore! I believe most of my blog posts are still on the website, and it's quite fun to read through them and see how life is different now that I'm not officially a student anymore.
My last post as a PAL needs to be updated slightly. Since then, I have found a job as a Laboratory Assistant in Jay Hollilck's lab in PMB. Although I seem to have quite an extensive range of research experiences, this one is quite different from anything I've done before. First of all, I'm working with maize constantly. I was incredibly afraid I was allergic to corn pollen (and I may be slightly), but so far, I've survived. However, the biggest difference from all of my other research experience is that I'm working more on genetics-based questions, trying to figure out how an epigenetic phenomenon called paramutation works in maize. It's really quite fascinating, and I'm enjoying my time working in the fields as well as in the lab.
posted August 29, 2010 10:35 PM
What I Gained from CNR
When I first came to UC Berkeley I had no idea what I was doing. I was an out of state student from a suburb in Georgia and I had only visited the campus once before. Like many freshmen, I was enrolled in the College of Letters and Science, intended MCB. I didn’t know much about what classes to take and I just chose some of the pre-med requisite courses somewhat blindly. I was pretty disillusioned throughout my first semester. Constantly going in and out of huge classes of 500+ students made me feel like I was just “going through the motions.”
After getting settled in, I gradually took some more initiative in figuring out what I wanted. Fortunately, I learned about the College of Natural Resources (CNR) from a friend in the Molecular Environmental Biology (MEB) major. After spending time in Mulford Hall and the CNR side of campus, I realized that it offered a lot of the benefits I was looking for. Some of the features of CNR that I found particularly appealing were the smaller size, a greater focus on crafting a personalized major, and opportunities for independent research through the CNR Honors Program. I quickly transferred to CNR to become an MEB major and found new enthusiasm for my college experience.
One additional obligation for me as an out–of-state student was the cost of tuition. My CNR advisor helped me plan my class schedule around my part-time employment and condense my workload such that I was able to complete my degree with an honors thesis in three years. When it came time to find a job, I made use of the resources at the CNR and received a lot of guidance from my thesis mentor. I immediately found that there were many opportunities within my interests that I never knew about. For example, I had always been under the false impression that if I was interested in science then my only options were to either become a doctor or a professor. However, the resources at CNR opened my eyes to opportunities ranging from science policy, administration, conservation, ecology, public health, and medicine.
After graduating I knew I was broadly interested in biomedical research and public health, but I felt I needed professional experience before deciding if I wanted to pursue a graduate or professional degree. I found the perfect post-baccalaureate job in biomedical research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA, formally called the Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) Fellowship. I was a competitive applicant to the program primarily because of the independent research experience I gained in the CNR honors program. My project, "The Labellum of Costus (Zingiberales) and the ABC Model of Floral Development," was supported by a grant from CNR's Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) program, and I was able to work closely with a faculty mentor, Professor Chelsea Specht.
Over the past two years I have worked on a number of different projects, each of which contributes directly to global malaria control efforts. One of my projects entails the use of molecular epidemiology to track the prevalence and genetic history of drug resistant malaria-causing parasites in various parts of the world. As part of this project, I have had the privilege of learning powerful molecular techniques and have trained guest researchers from collaborating labs in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Tanzania, Ghana, Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil.
Another one of my objectives in the lab is to improve low cost malaria diagnostics, since malaria tends to be a problem in economically distressed parts of the world. Last year, I helped develop an instrument for this purpose and traveled to a rural health clinic in India to personally work with local physicians and carry out its first field trial. The data gained from this trial and other techniques that I have optimized in the lab have lead to the development of a quality control system for malaria diagnostics, which we hope to implement throughout East Africa early next year.
Although I feel I have had many opportunities, the learning curve in a professional environment can be slow. It took me two years to really get off the ground and gain the sense of autonomy that I have always sought in my career. Looking back, I feel that my experience at CNR did not just help me get my foot in the door with my first post-baccalaureate job; it also helped me excel in a professional environment.
For example, CNR helped me cultivate principles of conservation and sustainability in whatever I do. In fact, one of the first major contributions that I made to my lab at the CDC was in optimizing a laboratory technique that I used during my honors thesis. That optimization cut the cost of the technique by over two-fold and will save our lab thousands of dollars in the long run that can go towards valuable research efforts.
Several CNR classes also helped me develop skills in written composition and oral presentation that I now find essential when conveying my work through lab meetings, grants, publications, and conferences. I recently helped write a grant proposal for a $20 million clinical trial in India using skills I first gained at CNR when I wrote a Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) grant proposal for my thesis project. On a more abstract level, the culturally and academically diverse environment at CNR prepared me to work with people from all around the world.
If you had asked me what I would have envisioned myself doing in 5 years, back when I started at CNR, I would have never guessed that this is where I would be. I also don’t think my experience at CNR necessarily dictated what I would be doing either. Rather, I feel that CNR gave me the fundamental skills to pursue my personal interests and appreciate the opportunities, instead of fearing the uncertainties, which come with a future that isn’t clearly written out. I look forward to continuing my career in research and my goal is to ultimately investigate host-pathogen interactions in infectious disease as a physician-scientist. I am currently applying to MD/PhD programs and I hope that my future professional training will be as formative as the experience I gained at CNR.
Genetics and Immunology Laboratory
posted October 27, 2009 9:31 AM
Cloned Pups in the News
Has cloning pets become all the rage in Korea? Seems like it is among the working dog pup-ulation. Here is a piece about it, with adorable photo, from National Geographic News. Link to the full article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/07/photogalleries/animal-photos-week1/photo2.html
Seoul, South Korea, July 1, 2008 - Who's the cutest? Four puppies cloned from a Labrador retriever pose with researchers at Seoul National University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Two South Korean labs are offering cloning services to pet owners at prices ranging between U.S. $50,000 and $100,000.
Owners of working dogs have been the best customers to date, however. To South Korea's customs service, for example, cloning champion sniffers is a more efficient option than breeding the dogs the old-fashioned way.