Necessity of Peer Review

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2021 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Madeleine Sleeman, COL ’23

This summer, the generosity of Penn Career Services enabled me to work in the Thaiss Lab at the Microbiology Department, Perelman School of Medicine. I joined the Thaiss Lab in June 2020, but due to COVID-19, I could only work virtually. However, in May 2021, I was able to start to in-person. This was made financially possible by Penn Career Services.

While working remotely for a year, I did computational analysis for a project investigating how psychological stress affects irritable bowel disorder (IBD), which is a gastrointestinal condition affecting millions with debilitating symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding. This summer, I was able to contribute to the project both computationally and experimentally. I performed experiments involving RNA extraction from murine gut tissue, nuclei extraction from murine enteric neurons (neurons from the gut), confocal microscopy, flow cytometry, fluorescence activated cell sorting, murine dissection, models of psychological stress in mice, murine intraperitoneal/subcutaneous injections, and murine colonoscopies. Every day was beyond exciting.

I believe being in-person this summer was critical for my contributions to the project and taught me the necessity of peer review. The editors of our first-choice journal asked us to make several major revisions to our work to make it publishable. This required us to set-up and execute many experiments, which I would not have been involved in if I were still remote. From this, I learned the power and importance of peer revision in my field. I experienced first-hand how comments from other scientists turned into full blown experiments that truly transformed our project for the better.

I also started working on a project determining how psychological stress and the enteric nervous system are involved in colon cancer progression. This was very exciting to be a part of because we need to develop methods that have not been used before. To do so, we have been working with another lab specializing in components of the method we are trying to create. Without their help, it would likely take us a few years to develop, which again underscored the importance of peer collaboration.

I additionally co-authored a solely computational paper on how physical exercise affects IBD progression, finding that IBD patients benefit from moderate, but not excessive exercise.

However, the most wonderful part of my summer was meeting everyone in my lab and my mentors face-to-face. Over the past few months, I have made truly lifelong friends who taught and inspired me more than I could have ever thought possible.

Thank you, Penn Career Services, for providing me the funding I needed to pursue this internship. Without their financial aid, I would not have been able to have this incredible experience.

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