Let’s Science From Home!

If things were normal, this would be Week 5 of BSURF. But, a pandemic and a summer class later, here I am, sitting at home, typing up my first blog post. Crazy, isn’t it?

This year’s BSURF program will be drastically different from previous years. Instead of being on campus with the other BSURF fellows, I’ll be working remotely for the next two months, going to Zoom meetings instead of going into the lab. Not all of it is bad news though. There are certain luxuries that come with working from home, such as setting your own schedule, spending time with family, and being able to eat (!) while working. 

Before I get further, a little about my project: under the guidance of Dr. Allen, my PI and mentor,  I’ll be deep-diving into the datasets of two separate studies. The first is the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) study, which is an international collaboration that yielded groundbreaking research on cancer drivers in non-coding regions of the human genome. In essence, they took over 2,600 whole genome sequences of various cancer types and located potential cancer drivers (read: mutations that cause cancer) in non-coding regions. The second study is by Dr. Gersbach, who is a professor at Duke. His lab recently produced a dataset of “essential elements” in the human genome that regulate normal cell growth. My goal is to intersect these two datasets to see if there are any common hits between them. To put it simply, we’re looking for cause and effect. If, for example, there is a certain essential element that contains many cancer drivers, it would be the first step to confirming the validity of that cancer driver.  Eventually, the hope is to map non-coding cancer drivers to a phenotypic impact.

For the rest of this summer, I have two goals in mind. First, I want to become comfortable with research and the adventure it represents. In more objective terms, I hope to become familiar with the computational knowledge and techniques required to do research in the field of genetics. More importantly, I want to be able to embrace the daunting challenges and uncertainties that come with doing research. Second, I hope to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships with mentors and peers alike. I’m excited to be open-minded and have conversations, whether that’s about research projects, or about anything, really.

Already, research has proven to be an eye-opening experience. Whether it’s deep-diving into literature or emailing for help, I’ve quickly learned research is by no means a linear process. In reading my first paper, I had to read up on three other ones just to understand what was going on. And that’s what I’m coming to really enjoy. There are endless paths to choose from and avenues to explore, and while there will certainly be challenges to embrace, I’ll be ready to adapt, readjust, and push ahead as readily as ever.

Stay tuned, and welcome to the blog!

My workspace from home!

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