Dickinson College Student Studies Parkinson's Disease as a Mayo Clinic Research Fellow

Nicole Tamvaka '20 is spending her summer as an undergraduate research fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Florida where she is learning about specialized medicine in the fight against Parkinson's disease.

Nicole Tamvaka '20, Mayo Clinic (Florida)


Neuroscience, mathematics

Internship title:

Summer undergraduate research fellow.

What I do, day to day:

This summer, I interned in the lab of Dr. Owen Ross in the Mayo Clinic, which specializes in the genetics of Parkinsonism disorders. I worked closely with one of the post docs in the lab, and I conducted part of her research. I was interested in seeing if there are any specific stable polymorphisms of mitochondrial DNA that make an individual more prone to developing progressive supranuclear palsy or corticobasal degeneration. Both are atypical Parkinsonism disorders as well as progressive neurodegenerative diseases. On a day-to-day basis, I ran experiments, analyzed data, and attended weekly lab meeting as well as journal clubs and brain autopsies to help enhance my understanding of the diseases I was studying.

Most valuable part of this experience:

The most valuable aspect of my internship is the exposure I get to all kinds of different research, lab techniques, career paths and brilliant scientists. Working in a place like Mayo, you are constantly learning new things from everyone and everything around you—from how to slice a human brain to how to do a whole genome association study. You interact with some of the best scientists in their fields who inspire and push you to do your best and achieve greatness.

Advice for students considering internships:

Getting yourself in a professional research lab is simultaneously the most intimidating and rewarding experience you can have. Don't let any initial fear hold you back! A research internship can truly help shape your future, jumpstart your career and help you discover your passion.

How this internship has helped me:

Through this experience, I became familiar with various general lab procedures, using and maintaining lab equipment and analyzing data using bioinformatics. I was able to work closely with exceptional scientists and witness all the steps that go into designing and implementing a successful assay. Additionally, I learned how to better communicate scientific data by presenting my work in weekly lab meetings as well as a faculty panel at the end of the summer. One of the most helpful things I learned is to be critical and objective toward my results as well as other published work. This internship has tremendously expanded my knowledge of neurodegenerative diseases and current neuroscience research, and I am sure that all of these experiences will benefit me in the upcoming academic year at Dickinson both in the classroom/lab and outside.

Post-Dickinson plans:

After graduating college, I am going to pursue a Ph.D. program in computational neuroscience, which will bring together my mathematics and neuroscience backgrounds, and I wish to work in a pronounced laboratory, conducting research on neurodegenerative disorders. Later on in my life, I am hoping to be able to teach in a college or university. My moto in life is "Non ministrari sed ministrare" and this is how I would like to serve; by passing on knowledge, fostering in others a love for neuroscience and contributing to the exploration of the human brain.

Learn more about internships at Dickinson.


Published August 9, 2018