Internship Chronicles, Chapter 14: Alexis Kirkendall

One spring day, a Student Prince decided to go on a summer adventure. “It won’t be long before I have a career,” the Prince said, “so I’d better start preparing now.” So with some ’Berg education under their hat, and some connections in their back pocket, the Student Prince began forging their way through an internship.

We continue our web series, Internship Chronicles.

Chapter 14: Stepping Stones

Alexis Kirkendall is a rising junior from Wapakoneta, Ohio. She is a biology major with goals to continue to graduate school and earn a Ph.D. in microbiology or genetics. She is particularly interested in microbiomes, parasitology and medical genetics. This summer, she interned through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) ANEW One Health program at the University of Maine. 

How did you find your internship, or how did the internship find you?

I had no clue about the existence of REUs until a meeting with Dr. (Justin) Pruneski. He let me know that is something he did as an undergrad and it helped him know if he would enjoy research. He recommended I go to the National Science Foundation website and look there. From there I was able to apply, I was not expecting to get anything as I was just a sophomore and they only accept 10 students for each program. This meant it is highly competitive and I wasn't sure coming from a small school if I could get it. It turns out that some of my close relationships with faculty due to the size of the school are what made me stand out and why I was accepted. 

What did you expect from your internship initially?

I anticipated doing quite a bit of research but I was definitely unsure of how that process looked. I knew lab work would be involved of course but I had no idea how the rest would go. With this being said, I was very scared to step out of my comfort zone as this was very new to me but I also was super excited. Being a COVID-kid, as I call it, I knew some of my in-person lab skills weren't there yet due to virtual labs but I was excited to jump in and see what I could do. 

What really happens in your day-to-day work?

Nemo

So to start, the good news is I absolutely love my day-to-day work. However, it varies quite a bit each day so I will explain a bit more. I am currently helping with two research projects. The first one is focusing on Cryptosporidium in Farm Calves. When working on that project I can be found at the farm collecting the samples I need, or in the lab processing the samples through staining methods, and analyzing the samples via microscopy.

alexis and peach

The second project I am helping with involves looking into the camel rumen microbiome. The work I am doing on this happens to be more technical. I currently have the data sets for varying enzyme classes found in different camels’ rumens based on what diet they were eating. With this, I am making figures to help analyze trends focused across an enzyme class. The nice part about this is that some days I can stay home instead of going to the lab and still be performing research.

As an alternative, I also help with things in the lab on a need-based basis. Today I helped make and pour 100 cell-culture plates. The lab I am working under is going to be shipping these out to a scallop lab. I also am in the middle of preparing 100 tubes filled with PBS. PBS stands for phosphate-buffered saline. The purpose of these tubes is for the lab to place their swabs in from applying their samples to the plates and send those back to us. The PBS will help preserve the cells and we can use the swabs to do some research involving scallop genomics.  

slides

On top of all of this, I also participate in a Professional Developmental Series twice a week. As a part of this, I attend meetings Monday and Friday mornings. On Mondays, a professor who is acting as a mentor in my REU program will help teach us about important skills in a scientific career. For example, one week was on making scientific figures and another week focused on resume making. On Fridays, we peer review each other's work. This has been a great way for me to learn some new skills and reach out to faculty members I otherwise would have not. For example, I reached out to Dr. Angela Mech to get help improving the figures I am making for the Camel Rumen Microbiome project. 

What connections have you made?

I am working under Dr. Sue Ishaq this summer. I have been able to work closely with her to complete the research I have and she is helping me pursue further opportunities involving sharing my research in other ways at conferences. The link below leads to her lab website. I also have been able to make connections with some of the grad students in Dr. Ishaq's lab as we have worked together this summer. 

What is the most valuable thing you’ll bring back to the classroom after this experience?

petri dish

Definitely my new lab skills. I have gotten so much better at being confident and working independently in the lab this summer. I also have gotten practice collaborating with others more in the lab and communicating with them regarding our research. 

If your internship was a book or a chapter in a book, what should it be titled?

Stepping Stones: I say this because I feel this summer I have been jumping from stone to stone while learning. I started off very anxious in the lab but excited to learn and improve. From there I was given a lot of resources but was still working on varying skills. With some of that intimidation I was facing, I spent my first couple of weeks reading a lot of scientific papers to get a better understanding of the research I was doing. With this being said, I wasn't working in the lab much at the start. However, throughout the summer I started learning varying lab techniques and eventually reached the point where I would come in on my own and would continue the research myself. I have now even reached a point where I am helping teach other students in the lab some of the skills I have mastered this summer!
 
For more information on the One Health program, check out their website.

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