Massachusetts General Hospital SYNAPSE Program for Autism, Boston, MA
This summer I had the opportunity to work as a student researcher, supervised by Dr. Xuejun Kong, Attending Physician and Principal Investigator at Harvard Medical School and Director of the SYNAPSE Program for Autism; Dr. Jun Liu, Professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Dr. Xin Tang, Postdoctoral Associate, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. While Covid-19 has heavily affected all undergraduate students, I was fortunate to find a remote internship working with several prominent individuals that are pushing the current boundaries of biology research.
Much of my interest in biology has stemmed from a passion for genetics, and fortunately I was able to participate in a precision medicine-related research project to understand the molecular pathogenesis related to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Under the guidance of Dr. Jun Liu, I identified key genes in autism pathology that also had overlap with genes found in different cancers. Dr. Liu proposed that the research that has been done on cancer may provide some insight onto other disorders and lead to a potential breakthrough in autism. For Dr. Xin Tang, much of the work I performed was more editorial and gave me the experience of reading papers, grants, and planning for future research. This was very eye-opening work for me because it gave me a “behind the scenes” experience of research work. I really enjoyed having lengthy discussions with my supervisors about the rapidly progressing field of biology and the technologies that may have huge benefits in the near future.
One of the most important skills that I honed was being able to effectively read and comprehend a published scientific paper on a field that I was unfamiliar with and relay that information in a clear and concise way. When I first started reading papers that dealt with different aspects of neurodevelopmental disorders, I felt that I was in over my head. It can be a very daunting task to read a paper when at first many of the words seem alien. Slowly though, over the course of the internship and with the encouragement of my mentors, I started to gain an understanding of both the complex vocabulary and the mindset employed by researchers who authored the paper. This knowledge will continue to be a useful skill as I to return to campus and take more advanced biology courses.
I am incredibly grateful to the Class of 1951 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for affording me this opportunity to continue to learn and be engaged in science despite the difficulties that the pandemic has created.