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Internship Spotlight: Katie Koczirka '20, Boston Children's Hospital

Katie Koczirka '20 is spending her summer as an intern at the Boston Children's Hospital, where she's building her lab techniques and skills while working alongside professional researchers.

Katie Koczirka '20 is spending her summer as an intern at the Boston Children's Hospital, where she's sharpening her lab skills while working alongside professional cancer researchers.

Majors:

Biochemistry & molecular biology, neuroscience.

Internship title and location:

Summer intern, hematology/oncology, Zon Laboratory of Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

How I got this internship:

I reached out directly to principal investigator Dr. Zon and expressed interest in his work.

What I do, day to day:

This summer I am working in the Zon Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School under the direction of Dr. Leonard Zon. I work most closely with Harvard graduate student Haley Noonan as she investigates the mechanism by which developmental signaling pathways influence transcription in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. We are testing the hypothesis that lineage specific master transcription factors direct the binding of signaling transcription factors on chromatin. As current melanoma treatments often end in resistance, understanding the changes in gene expression in melanoma may lead to the development of novel drug therapies to improve patient outcomes. We utilize zebrafish to model melanoma; melanoma development can be induced in genetically mutated zebrafish embryos and adult fish through the injection of plasmid DNA. I am working to establish a line of zebrafish reporters where melanoma cells with activated developmental signaling pathways can be visualized using fluorescent microscopy. I utilize several different laboratory techniques on a regular basis, including microinjections of zebrafish embryos and electroporation of adult fish. Electroporation utilizes an electrical current to increase the permeability of plasma membranes, allowing injected plasmid DNA to enter cells. I also have enjoyed attending lectures and presentations about other cancer and hematology research projects being conducted at Harvard Medical School.

Other internships:

This is my first off-campus research experience. During previous summers, I worked as an emergency medical technician in Massachusetts. I also have worked as a volunteer for the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team and as a Disaster Health Services caseworker. I hope to continue to work in a research lab following graduation.

Most valuable part of this experience:

Through this internship, I have learned new laboratory techniques that I hope to use in the future. I’ve gained confidence in my laboratory skills due to the level of independence and responsibility this research opportunity and my mentor provided.

Advice for students considering internships:

Do not be afraid to push yourself intellectually and explore different fields! A diverse set of skills broadens your future opportunities and makes you unique.

How this internship has helped me:

On campus, I work with [Associate] Professor [of Biology] Michael Roberts, who investigates changes in gene expression in acute myeloid leukemia. My laboratory experiences on campus prepared me for this internship, as I utilize many of the techniques I learned at Dickinson. I look forward to resuming my on-campus research with a new skill set and a better understanding of how to conduct a successful research project. In the future, I hope to combine my interest in biochemistry & microbiology and neuroscience by investigating the genetic basis of cancers of the nervous system; this internship and my experiences at Dickinson have provided a solid foundation to pursue this goal.

Post-Dickinson plans:

After graduating from Dickinson, I plan to continue to work in a research laboratory before attending medical school. I am interested in pursuing a career in neuro-oncology as both a clinician and researcher.

Learn more about internships at Dickinson.

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Published August 9, 2019