This seems like such a sham to be writing about meeting my coworkers at Wayne State’s medical school when I in fact started months ago, but as I am quickly learning, when you do research you really must prioritize. And as my boss Kevin always says, “The number one, wildly important goal, is manuscripts. Write, write, write. When you’re not writing, think about what you’re going to write.” As we are finally approaching the end of actual manuscript writing and now going into cross-checking references., I find myself finally getting off work early enough that I can blog. So, without any further tangents:
I began my internship in mid-May after spending what I deem an unreasonable amount of time both job hunting and applying to jobs. By the end of all of it, I found myself living with family in the metro-Detroit area and commuting to Wayne State University every work day.
I work with a variety of people, but my most immediate and highest ranking boss is Kevin Theis (read: one of the most brilliant people I have ever met). Kevin received his PhD from Michigan State University after studying microbes and their effect on animal behavior. He spent a year out in the field lab in Africa studying hyenas and the paste that they secrete to communicate. This led to one of his first papers on hyena paste and the microbes that make it smell which is how it is useful for communication (i.e. different smells equals different scenarios or emotions being communicated). Immediately after his dissertation, he received a grant to do further research on hyenas. I wish I could say I completely understand why this is a huge deal, but from what I have gathered from one of the PhD students in the lab, there aren’t many grants out there for post-docs who have no affiliation with an institution. Cue me calling him brilliant yet again. Next in the chain of command is Andrew Winters, a post-doc who received his PhD from Michigan State as well (I am working in a not-so-Wolverine-friendly zone). He spent his years as a PhD student working for a lab that did all the research on the fish in Michigan’s lakes and fisheries, looking at the viruses and diseases that showed up over time and determining viral genomes. Just as brilliant, Drew runs the hour by hour tasks of the lab and does A LOT of the manuscript writing. He is the poor soul who usually gets bothered with all my questions simply because he is usually the person who makes the final calls on how to handle an obstacle with techniques, but also because he is a wonderful resource on microbes and is more readily available than Kevin for the most part. Lastly, the lab has two PhD students: Jonathan Greenberg from Wayne State and Connie Rojas from Michigan State University. Connie is technically not a member of the lab, but since her advisor was Kevin’s advisor in graduate school, Kevin is helping her with her microbial studies of hyenas while he spearheads the human microbial research. Jonathan is full-time staff in the lab and has the wonderful task of being my most immediate supervisor. All the members of the team were super welcoming and patient with me as I learned the ropes of the lab, and I consider myself nothing short of blessed to have gotten to know them all so well. However, there is obviously more to a lab than just the people who fill it.
My lab is in the department of Immunology and Microbiology and focuses on aspects of the human microbiome. To be specific, we are looking at the microbes present in vaginal swabs, amniotic fluid, and placental samples from women who gave birth preterm at DMC Harper-Hutzel Hospital. The goal of our work is to find a pattern in the microbiology that indicates if a gravida will go into preterm labor. This work is important since preterm birth is the leading cause of mortality for children under the age of five due to the complications that come along with being born before 37 weeks of gestation. Scientists also know that of women who give birth, 10% give birth before 37 weeks and 40% of those women are found to have bacteria in the amniotic fluid. If our lab could find a pattern, a microbial biomarker, that indicates if a woman is at risk of going into preterm labor, researchers could then begin to look at ways that we can prevent it once identified.
I have always wanted to go into medicine and have given great consideration into going into maternal/fetal medicine such as obstetrics or perinatology since I was born a preterm infant. Getting an opportunity to work on a project that I have such a personal connection to is nothing short of a miracle and it has proved over the course of 13 weeks to be one of the best experiences. So I hope that with just 5 blog posts I can show you just how exciting it is to work in a lab on the forefront of microbial research.