Last Week at the McAllister Lab

Another summer done at the McAllister Lab! My experience at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School was absolutely amazing, and this summer was the best out of all of my previous summers there. This summer, I practiced and learned many wet-lab techniques. Additionally, I ¬†participated in multiple journal clubs where members of my lab met to discuss the results of other scientists that do work that is similar to ours.¬†In these journal clubs, we analyzed their results with our lens, and I learned to start questioning the integrity of others’ results alongside my other lab members. I used to accept the data presented by peer-reviewed articles with a sort of blind faith, but I’ve been slowly learning how to question what I read because not all reviewers catch the holes in someone’s research.

2014 Summer Students of the McAllister Lab, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

After working alone all summer without a direct in-lab mentor, I can say that I am now very comfortable with the idea of planning my own experiments and days at work. With all the results that have been generated from the past and this current summer, I have been creating figures that will be used in our upcoming paper. Some of these figures include growth kinetics charts, incidence graphs, microscopy panels, and concentration graphs. I have also learned how to use CellProfiler, a cell image analysis software that was developed at the Broad Institute. It has been particularly helpful in analyzing the microscopy I have done all summer, and the best part is that I can use it to analyze my results at home even though I’m finished with my experiments now. Dr. McAllister and I have had multiple meetings together about how the paper will be laid out, and we are currently maintaining correspondence about its progress. I also am excited to say that some of my results from the summer were novel, so we are now trying to determine where the data will fit inside the paper. I presented my research to the rest of Brigham and Women’s Division of Hematology last Friday and I am relieved that the presentation went well.

Going forward, I plan to take all the skills that I learned from the McAllister Lab with me as I pursue other research endeavors. I have had the privilege of developing an in-depth understanding of research academia through this internship, and I believe that this understanding will be particularly useful in the fall semester when I start as an undergraduate research assistant at one of Brandeis’ neuroscience labs. I think for next summer, it would be interesting to try to find an internship in the field of industry, perhaps at a biotechnology company to see what it’s like to be on the for-profit side of biology instead of the non-profit side. For anyone who is interested in pursuing an internship in research academia, I would first suggest finding a special program for students that put them in mentored research environments. Many colleges and hospitals around the country have these summer research internships, and it is during these summers that students can form long-lasting career networks. After being in a research environment for a whole summer, there is a high possibility of returning for another summer if correspondence is maintained. For researching specifically under the Harvard Medical School umbrella of summer programs, this is a great resource. The program I was originally in (for the first two summers) was the CURE Program of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

Overall, I had a wonderful summer. On our last day, Dr. McAllister participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with me and some of our other summer students. We all went out with a “splash” and it was a fun experience! Here is the link to our video: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: McAllister Lab

McAllister Lab and Mullaly Lab at the going-away party of our administrative assistant

Irene Wong, ’17

 

McLab Midpoint

Five weeks after I started working again at the McAllister Lab of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, I am already halfway done with my internship! Since I started, I have been very busy running all different types of experiments. Some tasks that I have been busy doing are immunohistochemistry, protocol optimization, and tissue culture. There have definitely been obstacles along the way, including faulty reagents and cell line contamination, but I have been trying pace myself and take it all with a grain of salt.

After the first week, I started feeling comfortable with working more independently in the lab. I was stressed during that first week, but once I figured out what I needed to do, it felt just like it did last summer when I was working without my mentor. In the past few weeks, I have been planning experiments with my given timetable, and it’s not as scary as I initially thought it would be. Unfortunately, even when I plan well in advance for some experiments, I have stopped by the lab during weekends because of time-sensitive protocols. (The cells don’t take a break!) I have also been receiving a lot of guidance along the way from two other post-doctoral researchers and the current lab manager in terms of guiding me through procedures, so I am extremely grateful for their assistance.

At this moment, I am most proud of my ability to plan out my days so that each are very productive. When I was a summer student here during previous years, there were some occasions where I would have down-time. This summer, I have much less down-time because I am so busy running experiments. I feel that every day that I am here, I am making very good use of my time. With regard to project progression, I generated some data that was inconsistent with previous results. In a mouse experiment with old and young mice bearing breast cancer tumors, I previously found differences in the presence of a certain type of protein. However, this time around, I found that there was no difference. The data was unexpected, but it is very important for us to consider when the paper for the Aging Project gets written. I have been learning new lab skills, such as working with dilutions and graphing tumor kinetics data on Excel. I previously haven’t had much experience with generating figures from a data set, so I am now glad that I am able to do so. I have also learned the importance of analyzing data blindly – that is, reviewing qualitative data as objectively as possible by hiding the different cohorts there are in an experiment. As a future scientist, it will be very important for me to keep this in mind; it is best to generate and review data in this fashion because bias can easily skew interpretation.

Finally, in addition to everything I have been learning and experiencing in the lab, I have been having a great experience outside of all the benchwork. I am definitely building stronger networks by talking more to my other labmates and getting a chance to talk to those who are in other labs. In fact, I had the fortune of having a great conversation with a Brandeis 2012 alum who worked in one of the neighboring labs; he left the state for medical school the week afterwards. And lastly, each year the McAllister Lab has annual social events with the Dr. Robert Weinberg Lab of MIT’s Whitehead Institute, Dr. McAllister’s post-doctoral research affiliation. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Weinberg himself at both the annual Weinberg Picnic and Weinberg Beach Day.

Dr. Sandra McAllister Lab at the annual Dr. Robert Weinberg Picnic
McLab Members at the annual Weinberg Beach Day at Wingaersheek Beach (Gloucester, MA). We named our new friend McCrab!
McLab Members at the annual Weinberg Beach Day at Wingaersheek Beach (Gloucester, MA). We named our new friend McCrab!

Irene Wong, ’17

 

Back at McLab

This summer, I have the pleasure of working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the lab of Dr. Sandra McAllister. The McAllister Lab studies breast cancer as a systemic disease, and our research focuses on identifying systemic factors that contribute to tumor progression and finding ways to interdict their function. Located in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston, MA, our lab is housed in the Karp Research Building.

This is actually my third summer at the McAllister Lab, as I interned here previously after my junior and senior years of high school. For those two prior years, I was at the lab under the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center CURE Program. I have continuously maintained dialogue with Dr. McAllister throughout the academic years, and she welcomed me to return to the lab when I had asked if I could return for another summer.

During my very first summer at the McAllister Lab (after junior year of high school), my mentor and I started a project called the Aging Project. In the Aging Project, we are studying the effect of age on triple-negative breast cancer. We have a cohort of young mice and old mice, inject them with human triple-negative breast cancer cell lines, and allow the tumors to grow. The project has been ongoing since its initiation two years ago, so I will once again contribute to its progress. Initially, I was working side-by-side with my mentor throughout my first and second summers. However, he left to pursue graduate school in the middle of the second summer; I ended up working alone for the last two weeks, but with assistance from other post-doctoral researchers in the lab if it was necessary. This summer, I am yet again without a direct mentor. Fortunately, I am still receiving guidance from my principal investigator on the project, and the other post-docs in the lab are also willing to assist me on protocols I am unfamiliar with. In terms of research related responsibilities this summer, I will be doing a lot of immunostaining, tissue culture, gene expression analysis, and literature searches. Other responsibilities concern general upkeep of the lab, such as updating and maintaining cell line and histology databases, restocking supplies, and organization. I will additionally attend weekly meetings with Dr. McAllister and the lab, departmental floor meetings, seminars, and journal clubs.

My first week consisted of catching up on meetings with my principal investigator, as well as planning the experiments that I will be doing. Planning experiments on my own is a new challenge for me, as I am used to having my previous mentor tell me what to do and guide me through each protocol. I feel overwhelmed and stressed about what I have to get done on the Aging Project, but I have confidence that I will be supported by other members of the lab if I need anything. There are also new members of the lab that I have not seen during previous summers, such as new post-docs and summer students, so I hope that I can become well-acquainted with them as well. This summer, I hope to build on my current knowledge of the McAllister Lab’s research and learn how to conduct myself independently in a research setting. I definitely miss having my mentor’s direct guidance, but I am looking forward to growing as a scientist.

– Irene Wong, ’17

Presenting the Aging Project at the New England Science Symposium, April 2014
Presenting the Aging Project at the New England Science Symposium, April 2014
Dr. Sandra S. McAllister Lab, Summer 2013