By | Cody Dail ’15
Charlotte Court House, Virginia

By the second week, I was culturing millions of cells and running experiments all on my own.

Building on the foundation of my Macalester classroom and research experience, I joined a research project at the University of Minnesota through the Academic Health Sciences Summer Research Program. There, I immersed myself in the nuances of stem cell research in the hope of discovering a more efficient way to selectively create bone cells from pluripotent stem cells (stem cells that have the potential to become almost any other kind of cell.) 

The principal investigator and graduate student in my lab trusted me to start work immediately. They taught me proper techniques for many new procedures and supplemented my experience with suggested readings so that I might gain a better grasp of the science behind the research. By the second week, I was culturing millions of cells and running experiments all on my own.

We currently have the technology to take differentiated adult cells from a patient, induce them to become a pluripotent stem cell, and then direct them to become the specific adult cell we desire. This could help circumvent immune rejection of transplants in the future if we can derive transplants entirely from the recipient.

Introduction to research

Macalester’s liberal arts approach has allowed me to major in economics while following a premedical track.  Small classes have allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with my professors that have opened the doors to multiple opportunities. Last summer I was selected as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Young Researchers program. Professors Paul Overvoorde and Lin Aanonsen provided me with an essential introduction to bench science. They not only taught me to adroitly perform specific procedures, but also how to function in a lab environment and think like a scientist. I have maintained contact with both Professors Aanonsen and Overvoorde, who encouraged me to apply to the stem cell position.

In addition to HHMI, other courses exposed me to professionals in research.  Professor Katherine Lechner regularly invited public health experts to guest lecture in Community and Global Health:  Biological Paradigms. Professor Devavani Chatterjea emphasized research-based application of the concepts we learned in her Cellular Biology course. Professor Chatterjea also assigned a class project where we read a scientist’s paper and then met with that scientist to discuss their research and career path. These classes allowed me to realize that real, interesting people are behind the many discoveries that we often take for granted. They also encouraged me to think critically and apply the concepts that I learn in class to real-life scenarios. These experiences have solidified my plans to become a doctor and given me the experience I need to be a competitive med school applicant.

Passing it on

When I first left my small farm in southern Virginia for the big city, I knew that I would have many opportunities. Three years later, I have surpassed my own expectations. My determination, coupled with support from friends, family, and faculty and the plethora of resources available to me, has allowed me to reach this point in my life. This fall, I am mentoring underclassmen in the Bonner Scholars Program and advising them on how to take advantage of similar opportunities. I have been blessed in many ways and am glad to be able to help others through the often arduous process of premedical studies.

November 13 2014

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