My First Summer As a Lab Assistant

By Myles Ashitey ‘22

My father would constantly drone on about my “untapped potential.”

STEMPrepYou could imagine his astonishment to discover that I was granted the opportunity to intern through a program called STEMPrep after my first year of high school. The program seeks out high-achieving, minority students with STEM interests and grants them laboratory experience by pairing them with a lab mentor. My mentor was Dr. Qian Chen, a timid yet acute scientist. I walked into that lab with fear flowing all throughout my body. My exposure to the sciences at the time were the honors biology and chemistry courses I had taken only a few months earlier.

To my surprise, my mentor was fairly patient with me. She started me off slowly, having me clean the petri dishes and test tubes that her graduate students happened to miss. Towards the beginning of the program, she would have me shadow her day-to-day experiments. It wasn’t until about two weeks into the program that she allowed me to be more hands on with her research.

looking at slide in chem labAt the beginning, she allowed me to note the changes in the hearts’ systolic and diastolic pressure. It wasn’t long before I found myself freezing and dissecting the hearts that were used for the study. I won’t lie though, throughout that month and a half, I was constantly afraid of having to sedate the rats. Nonetheless, the program was fulfilling.  From the daily minutiae to the more intricate tasks, each experience gave me a view into what a life in the lab sciences would entail. I was granted the opportunity to sedate and dissect Sprague-Dawley rats for a myocardial infarction study. While each trainee focused on their individual thesis, it was comforting to be with a group of driven, like-minded people. My thesis was that application of antioxidants (e.g., Coenzyme Q10) during reperfusion would reduce the oxidative stress and mitigate the reperfusion injury in the rats. I entered the program with subpar presenter skills and left with confidence never experienced before. I can attribute my interest in the STEM field to the work I did there.

chalkboard with math equationsToday, after a year at Pomona, I find myself more engrossed in STEM than I was before. However, this time I’m pursuing mathematics. I like to see math as the unsung hero behind physics. Although it’s only my first academic year, the math major has been fairly fulfilling, so much so that I’ll be doing topology research with one of my professors for the summer. Although I am nervous about the work I’ll be doing with him, I can feel some of the same excitement I felt a few years ago when I took my first steps into Dr. Chen’s lab. The work that I did that first summer was the catalyst that drove me to be the person that I am today.