Updated: Jun 21
From a young age, I’ve always found joy in the world of biology; the convoluted intricacies of the biological prose drew me in and instilled within me an urge to explore and expedite further into the subject. I pored over books regarding botany, toxicology, and anatomy, and memorized each minute aspect with unfaltering precision. Despite this, something was missing, like a painter and his vivid palette with no canvas to work on and no form to capture. However, I was perfectly content for the merrymaking of memorization was enough for me, at least for the moment. The mystique of biology changed as I watched powerlessly as multiple family members gradually succumbed to the ravages of cancer, even in spite of the frenzied yet fruitless efforts of doctors who tirelessly tried to reverse cancer’s irreversible blight. The need to memorize shifted into a need to understand and act. This newfound urge to enact change was further exacerbated by my life-threatening allergies, an inconvenience that has the ability to turn deadly at a moment’s notice. I embarked on my journey at City of Hope long before I stepped into a laboratory. Around two years ago, I was told by my rabbi that he would be holding a menorah lighting at City of Hope and that he needed an accompanist to when he sang traditional Jewish songs. Being eager to perform, I leaped at the opportunity. Little did I know, I would return to City of Hope after two years. When I submitted my application for the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Academy, I had no idea I would be accepted into the Academy or be supported by CIRM SPARK. As I set forth into the laboratory on my first day, I had questions. Plenty of questions. My questions were naive and uninformed. A complete contrast to the almost detached sense of professionalism that permeated throughout the entire lab from the way the researchers engaged with one another to the way the researchers operated with facile grace. I knew undoubtedly that this would be the right place for me, yet I knew absolutely nothing about what happened in the lab. Would they have time to answer my pressing questions? Is there room for me to make mistakes when each experiment is crucial? I soon learned that the lab operated with the foundational values of humility, cooperation, and most importantly, empathy. Beneath the sheath of professionalism, however, was a humble display of humanity and altruism. A strong sense of hesitancy dominated the first few days of the internship. A plethora of obscure technical terms was thrown around by the researchers with imposing ease; a phenomenon that left me with even more confusion. There was a bridling fear within me to ask questions and seek knowledge; what if these attempts were vague and imprecise — a marker of unprofessionalism? This mindset took a change as I immersed myself in the literature I was provided. While the literature possessed a vocabulary similar to that which was used in the lab, I read on, forming questions along the way. The questions I asked grew more confident as I asked more of them. The answers I was given were only bits and pieces, but I was able to form a picture from the fragments. This new sense of understanding led me to a new sense of confidence, one that pushed me to seek and know beyond what I already do. As the halls and tables of the lab grew familiar, so did those with whom I worked alongside. Everyone shared the common goal of curing cancer. While this might be a hopelessly romantic ambition, it was nevertheless worthy. Everyone and everything had to start somewhere. My day-to-day mentors Dr. Xuxiang Liu, Dr. Jennifer Jin, Dr. Logan Liu, Dr. Yuping Li, and the principal investigator Dr. John Chan guided me with a patience that didn’t sway even when I miscalculated a dilution incorrectly, centrifuged a sample for a minute too short, or removed the cell pellet on accident with a vacuum tube. I wasn’t seen as one who lacked education or judged by my lack of technical expertise by my mentors. Rather, I was guided on my journey with my instructors hoisting a lantern for me, showing me the way. By no means was the laboratory the stereotypically cold and remote room where people worked with reclusion and automation. Instead, the lab was a very humane place — a place where patience and empathy were seen as stepping stones to higher understanding. I went in expecting to be hit by confusion, and while I still struggle with certain aspects of the technical side, I stand indebted to my mentors for always being present to dispel the clouds of uncertainty that accompany a rapid influx of new ideas. The lab was a place I could explore boundlessly to gain the knowledge which would enact positive change in someone’s life. Every day left me increasingly unafraid to fire away with the questions, for I knew they would be welcome and ultimately beneficial. This newfound confidence blossomed into an urge to investigate; I’d leave no question unasked and no possible solution unexplored. Even if I’m not able to produce my own research at the moment, I nevertheless fully enjoy every second of work, every tube filled, every cell transferred, and every PCR performed for I know the skills I pick up along the way here will last me an entire lifetime of biomedical research. Just only three weeks in, I’ve found it useless to hold a prejudice against my personal imperfections, even in such an intense environment. How would I contribute to the collective goal if I choose to remain ignorant and muffle my burning questions? How could I make an impact on the world if I was resistant to change? For this, I am ever grateful to my mentors and look forward to working towards the common goal of building the human body and soul.