“Once a researcher, always a researcher”

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Maya Moore, COL ’20

“Once a researcher, always a researcher,” I thought out loud as I sat with some of my colleagues on the final day of my internship. My summer working at the National Human Genome Research Institute within the National Institutes of Health was really an experience like no other. I had worked at NIH for a short time during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school but I was excited to return back to this renowned research facility once again—this time working in a new lab.

I spent ten weeks working in the Health Disparities Unit within the Social and Behavioral Research Branch (SBRB) of the genome institute. There, under the direction of my supervisor, Mr. Vence Bonham, I prepared the protocol and materials for a study to be conducted in the fall assessing perceptions of pharmacogenetic testing in native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. Due to genetic variation, different people respond differently to different drugs. In this contemporary age of precision medicine, pharmacogenetic testing offers the great promise of using genetic information to match the right patient to the right drug at the right dose. Because native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are so highly underrepresented in pharmacogenetics research and genetic research overall, there is very little information that is available to make these drug/gene relationships and thus marking a disparity in knowledge of effective treatment options across ethnic groups. Therefore, we conduct this study to elucidate what possible cultural, ethical, or perhaps social factors may present barriers to participation in pharmacogenomics testing. My involvement in the study preparation was extensive. My roles included writing the protocol for the study– to be submitted to and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), writing the script for the focus group interviews that mark the study, writing and revising the demographic survey questions, and learning how to use the data analysis software R so that I could analyze the focus group transcripts upon receipt. I was delighted by how much autonomy my principal investigator gave me. He trusted that I could effectively design a study, using critical thinking skills to consider how to best gather information. Gathering the materials and resources for the study helped me realize that in much of my previous research experience, I had been on the tail end of the scientific process. I now have a newfound respect and understanding for all the work that goes into planning a study and preparing it to be conducted. There is a lot of thought that is required to developed an effective study and effective research starts with asking the right questions.

My summer 2018 research experience really could not have been any better. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to study at an institution like Penn that goes out of its way to ensure that there are no barriers to creating the best possible opportunities for its students. Being at NIH this summer was much like being at Penn; I was surrounded by a cohort of scholars who were so driven, intelligent, and passionate about doing what they do. That atmosphere is truly contagious and inspires me to continue my research both at Penn and beyond.

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