A Summer to Remember

Today we have a guest blog post from Erinn Mills, one of the summer students who participated in the 2012 Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program. The Alberta Cancer Foundation supports this program in partnership with Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.

Erinn tells us about her experience this past summer:

Mentor: Dr. Mary Hitt / Oncology

imageWhen I was completing my application for HYRS, I couldn’t help but doubt my chances of being accepted. I knew there were many other people applying from my school, and HYRS was only accepting two. All of them were very bright, and I believed that they qualified much more than I did. However, my chances were much less if I didn’t send in an application at all, so I sealed the envelope and mailed it off. Two months later, I received my acceptance call from the HYRS Assistant, Sean. I was extremely surprised. I would soon be doing research in an actual university lab! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer. It was very exciting.

Meeting the other HYRS students was something that worried me on the first day. I didn’t know if I would be able to relate to them, but I soon learned that they were all very interesting and well rounded individuals. We were all very close, and by the end of the program, it felt that we had known each other since elementary school. I was also nervous about meeting my mentor. I had never worked with a professor before, and I didn’t know what to expect. My mentor was Dr. Mary Hitt, a professor of oncology, and she turned out to be a very brilliant and kind woman. I had nothing to be worried about! Dr. Hitt could not always be there to watch over me, so I had a supervisor assigned to me. Kyle was the one who taught me the ropes of being in a lab and guided me in the right direction with my project. He was very patient and understanding, even with the countless mistakes I made.

I worked in an oncology lab this summer, which focuses specifically on chemo resistant cancer and oncolytic viruses. My project was to look at protein levels and see how they affected chemotherapy resistance and virus replication. During my project, I learned many things, including how to do a Western blot. It involves a protein assay, gel electrophoresis, transfer to a membrane, antibody staining and detection. At the end of the summer, each student made a scientific poster about their project. Unfortunately, one month was not enough time for me to develop many results. However, the results I did have turned out to be enough to create a poster with which I was happy.

The HYRS program is not just about research in a lab. Throughout HYRS, there were many different kinds of activities planned for us. Brown Bag Lunches were presentations that we had every Tuesday at lunch. They were all very informative. I think Brown Bag Lunches were the activity that gave me confidence about going into university. After hearing about things like scholarship possibilities and different career paths, I feel like university is much less intimidating. The Thursday tours were also very interesting. We toured the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science and Observatory, the National Institute for Nanotechnology, the Cross Cancer Institute, and the Mazankowski Heart Institute. These tours helped me to develop a sense of what goes on in the many buildings of the University of Alberta. They also broadened my awareness of the importance of nanotechnology, oncology, cardiology and interdisciplinary sciences.

Reflecting on the past month and a half, HYRS has truly been a life changing experience. Being able to work in a lab at this young age has given me basic skills that will prove to be useful in university and possibly in my career. The extra activities provided have fortified my knowledge of not only the University of Alberta, but university life in general. Overall, this program has given me enthusiasm and motivation to continue my studies in science, an incredible amount of insight into my future, and amazing friends that will last a lifetime. I have only positive things to say about the program and I would recommend it to every student.