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Undergraduate Biology Internship Stories:

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It's Time to Try Research

If you’re like me, every semester you spend the first few weeks of classes in a tired stupor. After a vacation full of late nights and 1:00 p.m. “breakfasts,” it’s hard to adjust to the rhythms of school life again—it’s almost like you want to tell your body, “Hey, it’s just not practical to stay up until 3am anymore, now that I have 8:30 classes—Get with the program!” 

Though it’s not very fun when you’re struggling to stay awake in Bio class and it’s only the second day, your body falls into certain wake-sleep patterns for a very cool reason. Throughout a 24-hour period, it periodically alters which genes get transcribed and which proteins get produced by your cells’ ribosomes. These oscillations occur in predictable ways, and can change your metabolism, body temperature, hormone production, and much more. They are called circadian rhythms, and they can vary widely from individual to individual.

Circadian rhythms do not exist merely to make students fail Biology, however; they are important in a variety of organisms, including animals, plants, some bacteria, and the fungus Neurospora, which was the model organism that Biochemistry major Adam Hill worked on at Dartmouth in the summer of 2009.

At Dartmouth, Hill researched the regulatory role of genes in circadian rhythms, and whether the genes suspected of controlling these rhythms in Neurospora were similar to those of mammals. By injecting mammalian cancer cells with siRNA that targeted and blocked the suspected genes, Hill was able to delay the cells’ circadian rhythms by roughly an hour. The results were suggestive, but still need to be explored.

In the process of obtaining these results, Hill learned new lab techniques and gained valuable know-how in designing experiments and writing scientific papers.

Hill found this excellent research opportunity through a simple internet search. He applied for a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at Dartmouth, and was placed in Dr. Jay Dunlap’s research lab, which focuses on biological clocks.

Of course, Dartmouth was not the first place that Hill looked for research experience. “This was a really high-end, intense place to work,” he says. “You can’t get into one of these big research programs if you don’t start by doing research here [at Binghamton] first.” 

Hill had done well in Biol 118 as a freshman, so he started a conversation with Dr. Anna Tan-Wilson which eventually led to an offer to work in her lab. He is now in his second year of researching the effects of light/dark cycles on protease activity in the plant species Arabidopsis. He will be completing his Honor’s Thesis this spring, and going on to graduate school in the fall to obtain his Ph.D.

According to Hill, having research experience has been an incredibly valuable asset when applying to grad school, both because of the excellent recommendation letters that resulted and because his work demonstrates a natural affinity for the scientific process. The summer work “was extremely challenging and stressful, but I see that as a good thing. I was really grateful for this opportunity,” he says.'

by Sarah Fecht

The SURF (summer undergraduate research fellowship) program at Dartmouth was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~surf/

There are many such Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships. Just type in SURF research in Google and find these at many institutions. Research Education for Undergraduate (REU) programs are also competitive programs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) at many institutions (http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.cfm)

Deadlines for these programs are usually in early- to mid-February.

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Last Updated: 2/7/11