TGen Talks: Episode 40, Helios Scholars at TGen
Karie Dozer [00:00:04] I'm Karie Dozer and this is TGen Talks, what was your summer job in college? Did you wear a T-shirt or a white lab coat? Most summer jobs in Arizona are typical. Young adults work at summer camps, wait tables or maybe lifeguard summer ends and classes begin in. Many of those jobs aren't filled again until next summer. But at TGen, summer means science. Each summer, TGen hires 45 college students to work full time on a research project under the mentorship of a TGen scientist to unravel mysteries like the genomic components of diabetes, neurological diseases and cancers. TGen benefits from having these students around the lab and uses their research and countless ongoing studies. And for these Helios scholars, the eight weeks they spend at TGen and the connections they make here can mean a successful transition to a career of their own. I'm sitting with three of these interns as they're getting ready to wrap up their summer programs there through about six of the eight weeks as we're speaking this morning. And first of all, I just like to congratulate you all on being chosen as Helios Scholars at TGen. And I'm going to ask you to introduce yourselves and tell me how it is that you that you started here at TGen, how this internship came to be.
Jayashree [00:01:18] Hi, my name is Jayashree Iyer and I'm a rising senior citizen biomedical engineering at ASU. And I've had my eye on TGen for quite some time now since high school, just because I knew it was a pretty well establishment in Arizona and the scientific community. And I knew it combined clinical, translational aspects of research in cancer, neurological disorders, and how it's a separate institute that I could really focus on precision medicine. So that's how I kind of got to be involved in teaching itself. So I really want to be a part of that as part of my college experience.
Karie Dozer [00:01:49] It's a lot to know about a summer job like see, I would have you introduce yourself.
Lexie [00:01:54] Yeah. So my name is Lexie. I'm a rising senior at UCLA and I actually came across TGen. I had some failure this past year. I applied for an internship on campus that was during the academic year. Didn't get into that. I was pretty bummed. So I was just doing some research, trying to find what I could do over the summer. So I decided to apply and I actually took a different angle on my application because I've gotten really into ethics and public health through my time at UCLA. And I think with TGen being focused on precision medicine, that's a very big part of that bench to bedside effort. And so I felt like I could bring something to the table that's of importance to TGen. So I decided to apply to the program.
Karie Dozer [00:02:37] Yeah, and you got here. All right. And our third intern. Introduce yourself. Tell me how you got here.
A.J. [00:02:42] Hi, guys. I'm A.J. I am a graduate of GCU. I got my degree in biomedical engineering. I actually heard about TGen in high school from one of my teachers. She one of her daughters worked there. And she was very adamant that we try to work there in the future. And so we got somebody to come in from TGen North and actually talk to us. And he just kind of described what he did. And I was like, yeah, I want to do that. So I was interested in the program ever since and ended up applying in 2020. And then covid hit and it kind of got reduced to an online format and graduating seniors weren't allowed to apply. But I begged them to let me apply again and they let me apply again and I got here. So that's pretty awesome.
Karie Dozer [00:03:38] Sometimes begging works. All right, AJ, so tell me we'll start with you since you have the microphone, what do you do here at TI, Jen? What's your area of study?
A.J. [00:03:46] Yeah, so I was lucky enough to get placed in the Neuro Genomics Division, which is really, really awesome. I get to work with protein. My focus for my project is identifying biomarkers for disease. So just for those of you that don't know, biomarkers are organic substances that are indicative of disease or things like that. So when we find these things like in blood samples, we'll be able to say, oh, yeah, you have this thing,
Karie Dozer [00:04:20] you're doing hands on work, you're not doing work that's going to be thrown away when your internship is over and somebody else will come and do it again next year, just like you did.
A.J. [00:04:28] Yeah, I, I'm, I'm actually contributing to TGen as a whole, which is a lot different than I think a lot of other internships where you just kind of either observe or do practice work, which is something very unique to TGen. I use real samples and I do real and I gather real data that will really help people.
Karie Dozer [00:04:50] Is that a little intimidating? It's cool, but is it a little scary?
A.J. [00:04:52] No, it really is. And that's something that you really you really need to grow in as you start at TGen. Like, uh, when you're in school, you're practicing your learning. But at TGen, it's kind of like a nice transition between, OK, you are still learning, but this is real stuff.
Karie Dozer [00:05:11] All right, Lexie, tell me what your area of study is and what you've been doing this past six of eight weeks.
Lexie [00:05:18] Yeah, so I'm one of few interns that's not in a lab at TGen. I'm actually on the side of compliance and quality management for TI Jun's clinical laboratory. So the project that I've been doing has been we're looking at the guidelines that exist for clinical labs because they're the only ones that are authorized to return results to patients. As of now, research labs cannot return findings to patients for a lot of ethical reasons. But because TGen is trying to like, visualize this bed to our bench to bedside approach, there is some converse. About research labs returning results, and so I was looking at the quality management systems that exist for clinical labs that ensure accuracy and reliability in their results, because if research labs want to return results to patients, they need to have those elements to ensure that their patients are not harmed or misled by any information that is given to them.
Karie Dozer [00:06:21] All right, Jayashree, I know we told you we would get back to you doing this in a particular order because I have three interns. Tell me what you're doing here at TGen. What's your area of study?
Jayashree [00:06:31] Yeah, sure. So I work in the brain tumor unit and we are focused mainly on brain cancer and one of the most aggressive forms that is glioblastoma. And the reason we're focusing on it is because the standard of care for that hasn't changed in about 30 years. So we definitely want improved treatment for patients. My specific project is in the blood brain barrier, where it's basically a very concrete barrier composed of so many cells, like immune cells, blood cells that basically separates the blood from the brain. And for a molecule to even get into the brain has to pass through this barrier. And the issue is it does its job so well, it prevents cancer, therapeutic drugs from getting in. So we need to find a way that we can safely and temporarily open this barrier to facilitate the movement of drugs to the target, because so many cancer, therapeutic drugs have been in development for glioblastoma. But the issue is just getting them across the barrier and making sure they hit their target.
Karie Dozer [00:07:23] Glioblastoma is one of those words that just carries with it fear. As soon as somebody hears it as a diagnosis, it just seems as if they have no hope. What's it like to be working in an area that so many people are aware of and so many people are still so fearful of is definitely very intimidating.
Jayashree [00:07:38] I think it's great to be a part of it because so there's such a collaboration in this space, especially because in addition to creating drugs across this barrier, there, are there people coming up with ways to just even open it in the first place? And that's what my project focuses on, are focusing more on like ultrasound disruption, which uses sound waves, mechanical energy to open the barrier temporarily, which is really, really cool. And that and that's diagnostic. So doesn't even use drugs in the first place is for therapeutic to get across the barrier. So we just want to test different ways we can open it. So it's definitely very intimidating, but I think it's also something great and collaborative to be part of.
Karie Dozer [00:08:18] A.J., what is your project and how much anticipation do you have about presenting?
A.J. [00:08:23] Yeah, um, my project, like I said before, is trying to identify biomarkers through protein analysis. So I'll be looking at these things called extracellular vesicles. Your cells kind of excrete these little pods and inside the pods are a protein that talk to other cells and let your body know what's going on. So I'm looking inside of those vesicles and seeing the types of proteins that are in there. It's definitely a lot of technical information, technical knowledge. And when I was when I came into this program, I felt like I am totally unprepared for this and it's very daunting. But I. I've been surprised, and that's one of the cool things that this program kind of does for you, you learn that your capacity is more than you thought. Like, you can come in here and know next to nothing and then learn so much content in a short amount of time. And that's partly because you have to and partly because we have mentors that work one on one with us and really like encourage us and do things slowly and at our at our comfort level, but also challenge us in ways. So I think the main answer, your other question, the main. I guess anxiety of presenting my project would be I'm no longer presenting to a group of my peers, I am now presenting to a bunch of people who have been here for years and are deep in their fields and know exactly what they're talking about, whereas I kind of have a familiarity with the topic. So the pressure to be exact and precise is high. But everybody here knows that we are interns and we're learning. And so that has helped me kind of take the pressure off of presenting in front of them because they know I don't know all of this stuff.
Karie Dozer [00:10:30] Right. All of you have mentioned a mentor. Do you have one mentor or are they assigned to you? Does it just happen naturally as a result of your work? What's that relationship like?
A.J. [00:10:40] I don't know about you guys. I have one mentor. She she's ah. She's my day to day mentor, so I'm working directly with her. She's teaching me most of the things that I'm learning. And she goes over protocols, procedures, safety, watches me pipette all of these things and really hones in my skills so that I can use them and have good habits for the future.
Karie Dozer [00:11:07] Sounds like the relationships you're building are as important, if not more important than the actual work you will produce. Definitely. All right. I want to ask each of you a similar question. What's the biggest thing that surprised you or what is the thing that you did not expect that you have had in this so far six weeks as you look toward wrapping up your internship? I'll start with you, Jayshree.
Jayashree [00:11:25] OK, sure. I didn't know that I could be this confident when speaking about science because, I mean, I know I've been a TGen for a bit, but when I first started out, I was very nervous and I felt like not in my element at all. And I thinking that there are experts, experts in the lab and that I couldn't possibly say as much as they could. But, you know, they value your input. They know you're an intern. And just knowing just having that, I guess, reassurance from them, whether it's explicitly or implicitly knowing that I could get this confidence about confident about scientific speaking skills and kind of translate that to presentational skills. And just in college and in real life is really cool. So I didn't think I could, you know, get to that point or have that capacity.
Karie Dozer e[00:12:05] Lexie, what about you?
Lexie [00:12:06] I would say that knowing that I was going to be one of the few interns that wasn't in a research lab, I was. Felt pretty small coming in because I and I've always felt this way about not being in research, that I'm not doing something very profound and that it's just not as meaningful. And so even though I should have expected it. I'm glad that I've got to meet so many people that aren't directly in research here just to be able to meet people that have different jobs. And they're still getting to be a part of the research in what they're doing. But they're not directly like they're not on the bench. That just makes me feel better about what I'm pursuing and it makes me still feel like my work will contribute, contribute to this bigger effort that TGen is driving towards or just, I mean, translational medicine in general.
Karie Dozer [00:12:56] What's the biggest surprise.
A.J. [00:12:58] I would have to say, um, the amount of things I've actually gotten to participate in.
Karie Dozer [00:13:06] Yeah, hands on.
A.J. [00:13:06] Yeah. All of the I guess I was expecting to do some things and, you know, handle equipment that was not really expensive or, you know, get to use practice materials. But now I've been trained in lots of high dollar equipment, which is really needs and I think a very novel idea that TGen gives out, like I'm gaining skills that I will actually be using if I continue in research, laboratory work like things. I probably put 10 or 15 things on my resume. Yeah. Just from this experience,
Karie Dozer [00:13:45] Do you think there's any chance you don't continue in clinical? I mean, it sounds like you're already there.
A.J. [00:13:49] I mean, it's been really fun. I I've really enjoyed my experience here. And like I said before, you get to gain that confidence that you can learn at a really quick rate. So I, I really do love the research aspect of it. And I love that teaching is so close with all of the people that they work with. The, um, and the Center for Rare Childhood Disorders.
Karie Dozer [00:14:18] See, for our C4RCD is very quick and easy way to say.
A.J. [00:14:21] Yeah, I just really love the closeness, the relationship between family and researcher,
Karie Dozer [00:14:27] Anything that I've missed, anything that I didn't ask you that you wish I had.
Lexie [00:14:33] I feel like one thing I'll say, I guess this was maybe we kind of touched on it, how this program is different than a lot of other internship programs. I just really appreciate how TGen through Helios Scholars is fostering like well roundedness with these seminars that they're putting on and the social events they're putting on, it makes me feel like the program is striving towards something beyond just getting work out of us. They really want to develop us as individuals, as scientists. And I think that's a really valuable piece of this program that maybe gets overlooked sometimes just because the science is such a big part of it.
Jayashree [00:15:10] Yeah, I completely agree. Like, my mentor is a completely invested in my professional development and they always want to focus on what I want to do. So being able to talk with them and network with them is really helpful to figure out what I would want to do after graduation. So I think it's just the diversity here is really, really amazing.
A.J. [00:15:27] Yeah. And, uh, speaking to the well roundedness of the program, I think that an important tool that this program is giving us is public speaking as well as science, because sometimes you can get caught up in your work and, you know, put your head down, um, and just crank, you know, but TGen is really like taking the interns in and bringing them into seminars and making them talk about their own data in front of people that know what they're talking about. And those skills are so valuable. And I'm just so grateful for this program just because science is all about it's not all about like the bench work like we think about, but it is about that human connection. It is about, you know, somebody is going to help you with your research. Somebody is going to have a job opportunity that you wouldn't have known about if you didn't meet them. Somebody is going to have a different idea about your research topic and you can work that through with them. So I think the connections that you can make through this research opportunity are just as if not more important than the actual work that you're doing.
Karie Dozer [00:16:46] Yeah, well, it sounds like the three of you are well on your way. I know you only have eight weeks here and you just spend a half an hour with me. So I thank you for your time and for your just your interesting commentaries and good luck with whatever the future holds for you. Well, thank you. Thank you. And thank you for listening to TGen Talks for more episodes, go to TGen Talks. TGen is an affiliate of City of Hope. For TGen Talks, I'm Karie Dozer.