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STEM Interview: Kian W.

STEMmer Kian W. flashes a ladykiller grin. Photography by Lena M. ’15

Which lab did you work at and what was your research about?

I was in a lab at Cal with Professor Marqusee, and her research was attempting to illuminate the mechanism by which proteins fold. I was working on one of the post doc’s sub-research projects, studying one protein (the c-Src kinase protein) and how it folds under different circumstances.

How does this research benefit “big picture” science?

The bigger picture for studying protein folding is kind of twofold. One is to build on basic protein knowledge and to try to figure out how proteins work, for the purpose of scientific advancement. A more practical reason for studying for protein folding is that there are several diseases out there such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancer that are caused by proteins misfolding. Understanding how proteins fold can give us more insight and knowledge into those kinds of diseases, and potentially allow us to remedy them in the future.

Can you give me a little bit more insight into your project? What cells did you use? What processes did you carry out to carry out your project?

Specifically, I was working with the c-Src kinase protein, which is important in cell growth. I was working with a little piece of it. We basically started out with some genes for this protein, induced the proteins in some E. Coli bacteria cells, made the cells make the protein, and we just worked that protein into different experiments.

Did you have to do some research on your own?

Yeah, when you’re working in a lab, there’ll be periods when you’re working a lot, and then periods when you’ll have a ton of free time in between your experiments. So I spent a long time sitting at my desk, reading materials, doing research, learning about how the project works and how different proteins worked—the background information.

Did your mentor guide you a lot during the project?

My postdoc gave me some papers to read, the basic ideas, and the lab leader– the PI– also gave me some general tips. Often times she would set up some casual sessions in which she would teach me the basics and what kind of things I should go after.

Can you walk me through a simple day at the lab?

My days were relatively relaxed. I got there around 9 in the morning, and I usually got straight to work on an experiment. My postdoc sometimes gave me a plan of things to do, and then later on (I was in a six week internship), I had my own plan of what I needed to do, like what experiments I needed to do or what data to gather. So I’ll walk in with a plan of things I need to do, and then I got started on it. I had a lot of free time in between experiments, because it takes time to incubate, etc., and so I just went back and read my textbook, read some papers, tried to do some extra research, and tried to get my notes in order to for my STEM presentations. Then I had lunch, and then I just continued my work for the afternoon.

Did you get to design or contribute your ideas to a part of that experiment?

Well, it wasn’t my experiment. Everything that I did was put together by a postdoc. I have no idea where I would fit any of my work in there, so they gave a general outline of what I needed to do and of what needed to be done, but once they gave me the basic protocols, I would be doing the work by myself.

Did you go into knowing a lot about the protein folding?

I knew relatively little from the get-go– I knew the essentials from my basic junior year biology course. I did a one week boot camp before going into the lab. It was set up by Dr. C as an extension of the STEM program, and it was for high school students and undergraduates who were going to work at labs that summer. The purpose was to teach us basic lab work techniques that we would probably put to use over the summer. And then, when I actually arrived at my internship, I had to do a lot of reading to get myself up to speed.

So what did you get out of this experience?

I think it was definitely a good experience. I had a fantastic time in the first part of STEM; I was having a great time reading papers and watching presentations. I was a little nervous about my internship, though. I was the only high school student in the whole lab, which made for a somewhat nerve-wracking environment at the beginning, but I think that’s definitely part of the learning experience. The whole fun of doing the internship was learning my way through the lab; by the end of the six weeks, I was definitely very comfortable in the lab space. I want to do research later in life, so it was a good stepping stone as well.

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