Sherlock Holmes, Disease Detective

Even before the pandemic cast its looming shadow over society as we knew it, diseases had always piqued my interest; first in middle school, where I first formulated my intense fascination with pathogens and the spread of disease (solidifying my early career goals of becoming an epidemiologist), to intriguing high school classes about the biotechnology techniques that can be used to investigate such diseases, to my college general microbiology course, which allowed me to culture, transform, and experience first-hand these pathogens with my own two gloved hands.

While this curiosity that I harbored was always omnipresent in my future academic and career goals, I likewise always felt a barrier between me and the incredible scientists I read about, the heroes developing vaccines, or discovering novel strains of various pathogens. Even in class, or in my beginning work with Dr. Tenor at the Perfect lab, I felt somewhat removed and distant from the research itself, and not just thanks to the Zoom format of our meetings. My whole life I’ve dreamed of being a “disease detective,” of exploring the origin of deadly pathogens and stopping the spread before they cause an outbreak, or worse, but if my dream was to be a Sherlock Holmes in the scientific community, I was his bumbling, newly acquired assistant Watson, unsure and still figuring out my role in the sleuthing process.

Despite a hesitant start last semester, being physically in the lab has already made a world of a difference. Asking questions comes more easily, visualizing processes and protocols makes more sense in context, and I am spending less time playing catch-up, and more time being only half a step behind my wonderful mentor Julia, the Sherlock to my Watson. The first three days in the lab have already exceeded my most ambitious expectations; in terms of learning, I feel as though my brain is already overflowing with useful knowledge to be applied down the road, additional tools to go into my scientific detective tool belt for future use. My hopes for this summer is to become a more active participant in these disease detective endeavors — to come up with my own theories about why Cryptococcus neoformans survives so well in the brain environment while other pathogens tend to fail, to investigate more deeply into the role of nitrogen catabolism and hypothesize how that can be utilized in antifungal treatments of C. neoformans infections. While I have always considered Watson to be an adorable sidekick in Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ fast-paced adventures, my highest hopes for this summer is to grow as a scientist in terms of critical thinking, asking good and interesting questions, formulating exciting hypotheses, and making useful mistakes, all in the name of facilitating good scientific research; I aspire to become my own Sherlock Holmes, disease detective.

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