Denisonians in Health Professions: Clinical Research Assistant

Denisonians in health professions: clinical research assistant - lauren-jay-260x300.png image #0Lauren Jay ’14

Role: Clinical Research Assistant

Fun Fact: I’ve been to “Castaway” island in Fiji and met Wilson on the beach

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
I wanted to get some experience in the field prior to applying to graduate school. I unfortunately did not get the opportunity to do research while I was at Denison, so I wanted to see if research was a potential career for me.

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
I love meeting and consenting patients for our various research studies. I also enjoy learning new lab techniques and becoming more knowledgeable about current pharmaceutical trials. Engaging with doctors and other health care team members also has its perks. I’ve met a lot of great people while working for The Ohio State College of Medicine.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
The most challenging aspect of my work is meeting all the dynamic needs of pharmaceutical trials. Our lab is involved in a few trials that require very detailed documents, logs, and reports. I did not realize the amount of work, organization, and communication that goes into being the main clinical lab. There are very high expectations and you cannot afford to make mistakes. Thus, being proactive and staying organized can help mitigate some of the stresses that come with this job.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
A typical day involves running a clinical enzyme assay, gathering and processing samples, and helping with daily operations of the lab. When I first started my job, I used to consent patients for our research studies. Since then, I have strengthened my lab skills and am now one of the lead technicians. 

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
Reach out to alumni in the field. Do not be afraid that you’re “bothering them”, because most alumni are willing to help! If they can’t help get you a position, they may be able to point you in the right direction and/or even put you in contact with some of their colleagues. Networking is KEY. Use the power of the Denison alumni network to help you reach your next step in life.

Denisonians in Health Professions: Public Health

Denisonians in health professions: public - clare-meernik-253x300.png image #0Clare Meernik ’12

Role: Public Health-Epidemiology

Graduate School attended: University of Michigan School of Public Health, graduated in 2014

Current Job: Research Associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program

Fun Fact:
After grad school, I bought my first road bike and started competing in triathlons. Since I started racing two years ago, I’ve completed 8 triathlons, including four Half Ironmans.      

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in health sciences, but the only solid options I was aware of were becoming a doctor, a PA, or a PT. Thinking about the hours and time involved with attending medical school was not appealing to me, not to mention my dislike of blood and other gross stuff involving the body. I came across public health, and specifically epidemiology, as a career option while interning at the University of Kentucky Ovarian Cancer Screening Center the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Denison. Epidemiology is concerned with understanding, preventing, and treating disease at the population level, rather than on a case by case basis that a doctor deals with. I liked the idea that, as an epidemiologist, I would have the potential to improve health outcomes on a broad scale; for instance, epidemiologists are involved in developing cancer screening recommendations for the entire population (e.g., who should be screened and when? What negative effects result from over screening?). Once I became aware of epidemiology as a career path, I knew it was the perfect choice for me.

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
My favorite part of being in the public health field is that my colleagues all genuinely care about improving people’s lives. Public health programs are continually being underfunded or even cut, at the expense of our nation’s health and our ability to respond to public health crisis such as an epidemic of an infectious disease. Everyone I have interacted with in the public health field continues to fight for increased funding of programs and enactment of policies that improve health outcomes and overcome health disparities.           

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Public health funding is often not on the top of policymakers’ budgets because the dollars and lives saved are often not seen until they are long out of office. Specifically, in my field, tobacco is considered by many to be an old issue that we’ve already conquered, resulting in severe underfunding of tobacco control and prevention programs. The fact is, more than 35 million Americans still smoke, resulting in nearly 500,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Tobacco control and prevention is a top priority in the public health field, though convincing policymakers to fund programs and enact policies that address the huge burden of tobacco remains challenging.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
My typical day involves a variety of different projects, which always keeps me on my feet. I may be conducting data analysis related to the evaluation of community-based tobacco cessation programs, which involves descriptive statistics (e.g., What are the demographics of those who enrolled in the programs?) and regression models (e.g., What demographic and program utilization factors are associated with tobacco cessation 7 months after the end of the program?). In addition to program evaluation, I am also involved in various tobacco control research projects. For instance, I managed a study examining how the different packaging elements of little cigar and cigarillos (e.g., pack color, flavor, and warnings) affects people’s perception and use of those products. My role in the project involved developing survey items, data analysis and interpretation, and drafting a manuscript for publication.  

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
Epidemiology is a great career path for someone who is passionate about improving health at a local, national, or international level. The number of different paths within epidemiology are endless–from HIV prevention in Swaziland to cancer screening in rural Appalachia. If you are interested in potentially pursuing a career as an epidemiologist, take as many statistics and data analytics courses you can while at Denison; these will help tremendously in preparing you for your MPH. If you are nearing the end of your Denison career and have not had the opportunity to take many of these courses, don’t worry! I went into my MPH not having the opportunity to take any courses related to public health while at Denison. Many of my classmates in grad school were biology or health science majors, but many were not. Public health graduate programs are interested in students with diverse backgrounds, not just those from the health sciences. As long as you can demonstrate a passion for why you want to pursue a career in public health, programs will be interested in you!

Summer Internship Series: Community Engagement and Service

Alena Lassen ’18

OhioGuidestone, Cleveland, Ohio

My name is Alena Lassen, and I am a senior pursuing a double major in Anthropology/Sociology and Women and Gender Studies. This summer I was given the honor of interning at OhioGuidestone. I was a clinical intern able to learn from social workers and psychologists about research and working with clients struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.

OhioGuidestone is a non-profit based in Cleveland, Ohio that offers a range of services to low-income clients who are struggling with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and mental illness. Guidestone offers a variety of different programs and services meant to give their clients the support and guidance they require in order to live with mental illness. Through programs such as residential treatment, its charter school called Stepstone, and individual and group therapy, OhioGuidestone is known as an organization that will take on and work with any and all clients even if they have turned away by similar organizations.

I, and my fellow clinical interns, worked closely with both OhioGuidestone’s research department and charter school, as well as with a variety of social workers and psychologists conducting both group and individual therapy. I helped work on an ongoing research initiative examining the extent to which joy promotes resiliency to toxic stress in children, and also helped run a parent group at the Stepstone Academy (Guidestone’s charter school). Additionally, I was able to shadow my supervisor Yami Napoles, as she worked with individual clients, as well as other therapists as they conducted group sessions. Specifically, I was able to regularly attend an IOP group that OhioGuidestone offered. This is a support group designed to help individuals struggling with substance abuse by putting them in contact with other recovering addicts, as well as a trained therapist.

I learned an incredible amount at OhioGuidestone about what it means to engage with a variety of different clients as they are in the midst of incredibly complex struggles. By observing therapists working with both groups and individual clients, I was able to get a sense of the sorts of skills that are important for conducting therapy. Additionally I learned quite a lot about the demands that social workers and psychologists face in terms of confusing, irregular schedules and emotionally challenging jobs. My supervisor, as well as everyone else I have the privilege of working with, gave me incredible advice about ways to organize one’s time in order to be a helpful resource and confidant for future clients. Therefore my experience at OhioGuidestone definitely prepared me for my future career as a social worker.

I am so incredibly grateful for all the opportunities and learning that both Denison and OhioGuidestone offered me this summer through my internship experience. I would especially like to thank my director supervisor, Yami Napoles, as well as Rebecca Bernstein who is in charge of Guidestone’s summer internship experience, Robert Dick who ran the IOP group I shadowed, Brittany Pope from Guidestone’s research department, and everyone at Stepstone Academy for helping to enrichment my internship experience and offering me such incredible learning experiences this summer. Finally, I would like to thank Denison for its excellent advice regarding summer internships, and the donor who made it financially possible for me to consider taking this internship at all, Mr. Wallace Burke, Sherman Fairchild Foundation

Summer Internship Series: Journey on the Path to Find the Cure for Cancer

Neel Kejriwal ’18

National Cancer Institute

My name is Neel Kejriwal, I am a Biochemistry major and currently a senior. Over my summer I had the opportunity to work at one of the top cancer research labs in the country- NCI under the guidance of well renowned scientists from all around the world. It was a three-month experience where I spent the first few weeks shadowing and understanding the roles of the researchers in the field and then actually working on a research project. My project was interesting. It involved fixing and operating a digilab robot which could pipette up and down tumor cells and dispense them into 96 well plates in forms of microdroplets. This was created in a 4X4 array of drops. To these drops, drugs of different concentrations were added and using accurate imaging, the results were displayed. It was particularly fascinating, in my opinion to see how different fields of research played a vital role in studies primarily in the chemistry and biology fields, through modern innovations.

The robotics system I was working with was a sophisticated piece of equipment which was bought 2 years ago but was unused since it was very difficult to operate. I was given the task to understand the mechanism of operating it and perform the experiments. This was a very useful contribution to the national cancer institute since there is so much potential which microdroplets of cells could have with drug resistance. My results initially kept leading to errors but with constant observations, tweeks, and changes, I came up with a concrete protocol which matched my hypothesis.

In addition to the fantastic experience I had working for the organization, living on my own by renting a room in a single-family house gave me a perspective on independent living. My lab was in the middle of an army base called fort Detrick, so it was also really interesting to see the tight security and the safety precautions that was standardized in these government buildings.

Overall, my summer experience gave me a very broad experience on skills which would help me in my career into pharmacology and research and allowed me to have the exposure to work for a public based organization such as the national cancer institute. I have made some major contributions which might be published with more research and would help advance more innovations in science.   

Summer Internship Series: Summer Full of Science!

Tovey Nederveld ‘20
Cruz-Monserrate Lab Research Assistant, The James Cancer Center, Columbus, OhioThe james cancer hospital and solove research institute

My name is Tovey Nederveld and I am a sophomore at Denison this year. I am an anthropology/sociology major from Columbus, Ohio, and I am also pre-med. This past summer, I had an internship through The Ohio State University in The James Cancer Center.

I worked in a biomedical research lab which was centered around the pancreas. The scientists in the lab researched pancreatic cancer, chronic pancreatitis, obesity, and exercise through its relation to the pancreas. I was given my own research project to work on for the summer, learning about chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic fluid, and a protein in the pancreatic fluid called SerpinA5. SerpinA5 is only present in the pancreas when a patient has chronic pancreatitis. The major questions that I tried to answer were: What is the relationship between chronic pancreatitis and SerpinA5? Why is there only SerpinA5 in patients with chronic pancreatitis (CP)? How can we identify if SerpinA5 is a biomarker of CP and how can we use that to detect CP before it is too late to reverse the effects?

When I first got to the lab, this was a difficult task because I had only taken one biology class before. My supervisor emailed me five papers to read the night before my first day of my internship and I was overwhelmed and nervous about understanding the material and being able to have conversations about it. I got through the reading though, and each time she gave me material to read I was better able to understand it and apply it to what I was doing in the lab. I was charged with the responsibility of finding and ordering my own materials, figuring out how to go about the tests, and analyzing the results, with some guidance from my supervisor. She treated me as just another part of the team while still being hard on me, and that really helped me to develop my skills as a scientist. About a month in, I felt confident in myself and rarely had to ask for help.

In the end, all of my results were negative, but I gave a presentation to my coworkers about what I learned. This was another challenging part of the experience for me. I put together a PowerPoint with all of my results and presented it to people who were much more qualified and knowledgeable than me. I went through it with confidence, and although I had a few rough patches, I finished the presentation feeling good about all that I accomplished during the summer.

I have gained many skills that I will be able to apply to my chemistry and biology labs at Denison and have learned about all of the research that is done for the medical field. I had a great experience this summer through my internship and I am grateful for the great opportunity that I had to learn while school was not in session.

I would like to thank Dr. Cruz-Monserrate, Nikki Badi and Andrew Dangel for all of their support and mentorship this summer.

Summer Internship Series: Killing Bees, For Science!

Riley Jones ’20
Field/Laboratory Technician, Iowa State University

My name’s Riley Jones, and I’m currently a sophomore pursuing a BS in Biology. Over the summer, I worked as a field/laboratory technician on a research project at Iowa State University.

Bee sampleThe project? Compiling data about the diversity of bees found in field strips, also of varying plant diversity, in order to see how the level of diversity correlates between the two. Bees are incredibly important to the continued health of many ecosystems. I was very excited to work on a research project such as this one, especially since it balanced laboratory and field time. One of my goals going into this internship was to discover more about my personal preferences for research looked like, as I’m interested in doing field research as a career.

The month was split into two sections: the first two weeks of every month were spent in the lab, processing the specimens that were caught the previous month. To process a bee, they must be washed, dried, and have their mandibles and tongues “pulled”, or gently tugged into display position with a bent pin under a microscope. The mandible and tongues were then used to help identify the specimen’s genus and species. Did you know there are more than 300 species native to Iowa? Me neither, until this internship!

Bee samples collectedThe last two weeks of a month were spent out in the field, collecting the samples. We had several ways of catching the bees, from small bowls painted blue, yellow, and white (to mimic flowers) and filled with soapy water (so the bees couldn’t fly away) to waving around large insect nets in a controlled, but still chaotic, manner to see what we catch by chance. We also implemented “targeting”, in which we patrol the strip and try to catch any bee we see land on a flower. “Targeting” is used to collect data on what sorts of flowers a specific bee collects from, in order to study if a species is specialized to certain flowers or more of a generalist. I enjoyed collection periods the most; even though we had to be at the collection site before the bees emerged from their nests at sunrise, being in the field was both peaceful and fun.

Bee on a needleAt the beginning of the internship, I was worried that the early mornings of field work would drain me, as I wouldn’t call myself a morning person. However, I learned that since I enjoyed being out in the fields and waving a net around, the early mornings balanced out. I also learned that if I go on to work in research as a career, I definitely need the outdoor field work as a balance to the indoor lab work. Luckily, figuring out those personal preferences was one of the major reasons why I wanted to work on this study! I also learned a lot about bees and how to identify some plants by their flowers/leaves, which is a bonus. While I believe bees will stay a hobby, I had a wonderful experience working at the Harris Bee Lab, and am happy I spent my summer in Iowa.

Thank you to my lovely boss, Morgan Mackert, for taking on a rising sophomore that only had classroom lab experience. Shout out to Amanda and Carly, my coworkers, who helped the lab days go faster with funny conversation, and finally to Mr. Wallace Burke and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, for supporting me financially. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to have this incredible learning experience.

Summer Internship Series: It Was More than Just Horses!

McKenna Geiger ’19
Research Intern, UK Markey Cancer Center, Lexington, Kentucky

Summer internship series: it was more than just horses! - mckenna-287x300.png image #0Hey everybody, my name is McKenna Geiger. I am a current junior majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry. I am also on the Pre-Health track. This summer, I spent 7 weeks in Lexington, Kentucky as a research intern for the UK Markey Cancer Center’s Ovarian Cancer Screening Program.

Before I dive into what I did as an intern, I want to talk about how amazing this program is and how honored I am to have seen their contributions first-hand. The Ovarian Cancer Screening Program at the University of Kentucky offers free ovarian cancer screening to women who are over the age of 50 (post-menopausal) or over the age of 25 with a documented history of ovarian cancer. The main purpose (and hope) of these screenings is to first and foremost notify a patient that they do not have ovarian cancer and then with the patients who do show signs, detect it early enough. Early detection of ovarian cancer is vital to survival, so providing women with the ability to obtain these screens at no cost is ultimately life saving.

I began my internship observing the sonographers who work for the program. I learned all about how ultrasounds work and what the sonographers look for in their patients. After, I learned how to locate and outline masses on the ultrasounds of patients who did show signs of ovarian cancer. We used the measurements to determine whether or not the masses were malignant. That experience was super neat and a skill I know for a fact I will use post-Denison! After this, myself along with another intern from DePauw University were tasked with writing a research paper comparing the affordability of health insurance in Kentucky for fiscal years 2014—2017. Our focus was on the changes in premium and out-of-pocket costs under the Affordable Care Act for numerous family illustrations in both metropolitan and rural cities of Kentucky. Before this internship, I was very unfamiliar with health insurance and all of the legislation involved. Now, I’m an expert and helping First Federal Savings and Loan in Newark with their 2018 health insurance renewals!

Summer internship series: it was more than just horses! - mckenna-170x300.jpg image #1Another great experience I had during this internship was watching the Gynecology-Oncology surgeons perform. The surgeries were robot-assisted and ranged from unilateral or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomies (removal of one or two of the ovaries and fallopian tubes) to hysterectomies (removal of all parts of the uterus). Watching these surgeries was by far my favorite part of this internship. I have never seen a surgery before this and I am so glad I did because not only was it the coolest experience ever, but it also solidified my interest in pursuing a career in medicine. Now, will I become a surgeon? Who knows! But what I do know is that this internship helped me decide (with confidence) the field I want to go into post-Denison.

I will forever be thankful for the team at the Knowlton Center for helping me through the application process, my supervisor Dr. Ed Pavlik for providing this experience, and everyone else I met and worked with along the way!