The Process is the Prize: Becoming a Researcher During a Global Pandemic

From the start, my initial connection to the Brodsky lab was a uniquely personal one. During my first year at Pitt, Dr. Brodsky presented the general concept of his research to my foundations of Biology II class as a guest speaker. While explaining his research involving diseases arising from abnormal protein degradation, he specifically mentioned Cystic Fibrosis (CF) as a primary example. As I currently have multiple family members battling CF, this particular disease is especially near and dear to my heart. With this, I became immediately fascinated with the greater purpose of his research and knew I wanted to become a part of it. Thereafter, I reached out to Dr. Brodsky and explained my desire to learn more about his research and possibly become involved. To my delight, I was interviewed and subsequently given the incredible opportunity to begin working in the lab. After some time as a lab aide, I was then matched to my lab mentor, Katie Nguyen, a graduate student in the Brodsky lab currently studying the ROMK protein and its dual faceted role in Bartter’s syndrome and hypertension. I found Katie’s project particularly appealing in terms of my personal goals in that it provided a direct avenue for me to contribute to science in a meaningful way and was applicable to human diseases similar to CF. Overall, I feel beyond privileged to work alongside Katie with the ultimate goal of learning more about Bartter’s disease mutations in ROMK. The moral of the story is, based on my own positive experiences, I strongly encourage other students to actively seek-out professors whose projects align with their personal research goals. 

Although starting a research project was an extremely exciting experience, it was also simultaneously challenging for me to learn completely new experimental skills. Moreover, the current Covid-19 pandemic added a whole new element of uncertainty to my project. As the pandemic evolved, I was notified that I would not be able return to the lab in-person for the majority of the summer. With this unexpected news, we had to adjust the initial portion of my project. Luckily, with the help of my lab mentor, I was able to primarily focus on a computational component of my project over the summer. I was therefore able to spend the summer carefully researching and choosing the 16 Bartter’s mutations that I am currently studying experimentally. This was achieved by narrowing down a large list of existing missense mutations in human ROMK from an online TOP medical database. Subsequently, I was also able to map the 16 chosen Bartter’s associated mutations on a virtual ROMK model and design 32 primers using computational methods. From this process, I was ultimately able to learn the importance of flexibility and adaptability, especially when conducting research. 

My greatest hope is that young scientists like myself will take advantage of the many research opportunities available at Pitt. I highly recommend starting the process by actively connecting with researchers whose project suits your particular passions. Especially with professional goals in the medical field, it is especially important to establish valuable connections within the scientific community. Overall, my journey to becoming a researcher has been a positive one in more ways than one.

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