How I Spent my “Last Free Summer” Doing Research at the College of Medicine

Sarah Kelso '17
uvmmedicine blogger Sarah Kelso ’17

The summer after our first year of medical school is considered our ‘last free summer ever.’ When deciding how to spend it, I already knew what I wanted to do. I had never pursued research before, and I felt like it was this mysterious experience that was missing from my academic career. In January, I began searching for a researcher who was willing to take on an inexperienced medical student for only the summer. It was much easier than I had expected; a few emails and one meeting later, and I was sitting in Dr. Mercedes Rincon’s office in the Given building discussing her research on cytokines and antibodies in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Since my class had just finished the immunology section in our Attacks and Defenses course, I felt well-versed in interleukins, CD4 cells, and immunoglobulins. The project that she proposed seemed interesting and understandable, and I was excited to learn.

And I have learned so much this summer. Working with Dr. Rincon has been an absolute pleasure. Despite having many projects in progress and several students working with her, she has taken time to personally teach me how to process our patients’ blood samples, perform ELISAs, and conduct flow cytometry, among other things. I had learned the concepts behind these procedures in classes, so it has been exciting actually apply them. I now like to compare these processes to baking. You start by mixing a bunch of different reagents/ingredients together in specific quantities. Incubation is like letting the dough rise, and then you place it in a recording device, which is like the oven. When the samples are done, you hope that you did a good enough job to have no bad cookies. It is quite fun.

One of my goals was to learn about the overall process of basic research: what it takes to be able to produce those research papers that we so often read as medical students. I feel that I have accomplished that goal this summer. Dr. Rincon has been great at explaining to me the reasons for doing various protocols and what information we receive by performing them. I also learned about how the data I’ve collected through my experiments will be analyzed to produce information that will be useful to practicing rheumatologists and immunologists.

This summer, some of my classmates have traveled to foreign places, some have scrubbed in on surgeries, some have hiked and camped for days on end, and some have simply gone home to see missed loved ones. All of my classmates are doing amazing things that warrant jealousy, but I am looking back with no regret for my decision to spend the summer doing research. It has allowed me to keep my brain sharp, learn new concepts, and provide valuable service to science. But it has also given me an opportunity to have a perfect work-play balance in Burlington, a city that is incredibly fun in the summer. I’m training for triathlons, which is a passion that I picked up last summer and was wondering if I could continue through medical school. I’ve learned to sail; I’ve finally hike Camel’s Hump, and I’ve relaxed on the beach, among many other things. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect summer.

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