Of Mice and Microbiology

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 Junwon Kim, COL ’24

This summer, I had the opportunity to work in the Thaiss Lab of Penn Medicine’s Microbiology department. After what felt like ages of Zoom classes and online meetings, working in a bustling lab with mouse models of all shapes and sizes was an exciting change of pace.

The Thaiss Lab looks to understand the microbiome and its impact on human physiology. Ongoing research ranges from analyzing circadian rhythms, to understanding the microbiome composition, to studying inflammatory diseases. As an aspiring physician-scientist, I was drawn to this lab because of the diversity of projects being explored. I wanted to explore as many fields and techniques of research to start looking for a particular field of interest to pursue. The project I worked on this summer looked particularly at how age-related microbiome changes may impact the nervous system.

My training began with more basic tasks, including handling the mice used in our research and learning how to identify them by number. After hours of careful training, I gained an appreciation for the intricacies of ensuring ethical treatment of lab animals both within the facilities and during the experiments.

As I grew more comfortable working with the mice, I learned various behavioral assays intended to measure their cognitive and motor function. These tests ranged from simple mazes to testing the mice’s grip strength. My personal favorite test was using a machine called the rotarod, where mice learn to walk on a rotating rod (hence the name!) as it spins faster and faster.

The lab meetings and journal clubs that I attended were just as important as the wet lab skills I gained. The lab meetings taught me various scientific approaches to the multitude of questions being explored by my lab. I was also given the opportunity to present my own findings during lab meeting. Despite the initial nerves of giving a presentation, I was able to fondly reflect on my contributions to the project at hand, as well as gain insightful feedback from others in my lab.

Attending journal club each week helped me to more effectively read and analyze scientific papers. I gained some of the critical thinking skills researchers need to dissect the most important parts of papers as relevant to their own work. Through journal club, I read and discussed a variety of techniques and methods that are employed in biomedical research.

As I continue into the semester with the lab, I eagerly anticipate the findings to come. Spending my summer in the Thaiss Lab gave me much-needed insight into what my future career as a researcher could look like. I found myself enjoying the experience even more than expected, re-igniting my excitement for research. This opportunity would not have been possible without the help of Penn Career Services, and I am grateful for all of the resources Career Services provides!

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