Alumni Serve as Remote Mentors for Senior Research Projects

by Ted Jou '99

When COVID-19 canceled many summer internship opportunities, Magnet research coordinator Angelique Bosse reached out to the Blair Magnet community to help students in the class of 2021 find opportunities to complete research projects. Alumni across the country (and the world) stepped up to volunteer, and Ms. Bosse helped to match students with mentors. More than 20 Magnet students completed their senior research projects with alumni mentors over the summer. Unlike in past years, the students weren't able to step foot in the laboratories of their mentors, but many were able to develop close working relationships, complete innovative research, and learn from alumni who had walked in their shoes decade(s) earlier.

Zoom call with Dr. Fan
Catherine Lo worked with Dr. Jean Fan, Class of '09, an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering with a secondary appointment in Computer Science. In previous research, Dr. Fan had been part of a team that developed an algorithm called Harmony, which analyzes single-cell RNA sequencing data to find shared cell-types among multiple datasets. Catherine's project investigated whether Harmony may "overcorrect" in certain situations, where unique cell populations are not identified as their own cluster. In particular, she studied the effect of rare or disproportionate cell types on the clustering outcome after Harmony corrections on two datasets to gauge how clustering differs when the population size of a cell type unique to one dataset changes. Catherine was able to join Zoom meetings and Slack channels with the rest of Dr. Fan's group, who were all working remotely through the summer. Dr. Fan felt that Catherine "fit right in" with the rest of the group, and she hopes to be able to offer more remote research opportunities for students in the future.  

Shruti Chauhan worked with Dr. Dan Bergstralh, Class of '93, an Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, where he leads a group studying Drosophila egg chambers, which are models for organ development. For her project, Shruti developed an automated three-dimensional analysis tool in Python to aid studies in the Drosophila follicular epithelium. Working with members of Dr. Bergstralh's group, Shruti designed her tool to identify the stage of the Drosophila egg chamber and count the number of unique follicular epithelial cells. Throughout the summer, Shruti was able to join lab meetings for the group, and she had weekly one-on-one meetings with Dr. Bergstralh. In addition to the crash course on epithelial / developmental biology, Shruti enjoyed learning Maryland trivia facts and getting college advice from her mentor. Dr. Bergstralh was impressed with the contributions that Shruti was able to make and enjoyed reconnecting with his own high school experience.

Dr. Jones with Yuri's mug
Yuri Kim worked with Dr. Emily Aery Jones, Class of '10, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Neurobiology at Stanford University. In her project she looked for differences in dentate spike activity in the brains of mice with Alzheimer's Disease. Dr. Jones kept the internship on a structured schedule, giving Yuri time to learn the background science and set up a coding environment in the first half of the summer. Yuri then worked to modify MATLAB code to extract the data she needed from hippocampal network activity. Yuri also had opportunities to present papers in journal club and to meet with colleagues of Dr. Jones who had taken different career paths in science. Although she was across the country from the rest of group at Stanford, Yuri's teenage sleep schedule adapted easily to Pacific time. At the end of her internship, Yuri sent Dr. Jones a mug featuring a cartoon mouse, to show her appreciation.

Iris Gupta worked with Dr. Manish Gala, Class of '99, an Assistant in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, conducting a statistical analysis of genetic factors for colorectal cancer. Yash Anand worked with Michael Winer, Class of '15, a Physics graduate student at the University of Maryland. Other students worked with alumni mentors at the University of Chicago, the University of Idaho, California State University (Los Angeles), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Children's National Hospital. In addition to alumni, several parents of alumni and students also mentored projects this summer.

Ms. Bosse supervised each of the senior research projects virtually, keeping in touch with students and mentors through phone calls and emails. As Montgomery County has not yet opened for in-person school, she has been working with students remotely this fall to write and revise their papers, practice oral presentations, and design posters. Many research competitions and science fairs are also being held virtually this year, and the students are working towards meeting those deadlines.