July 26, 2013

Summer Research Fellows at the Mayo Clinic Rochester

By Carl Gustafson

Every year, the Mayo Clinic hosts visiting students in summer research fellowship programs. The Mayo Graduate School welcomes over 100 visiting undergraduate students in a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) that lasts for 10 weeks through the summer. The Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education hosts visiting medical students who are between their 1st and 2nd years of medical school and are looking for training in patient-oriented research. Both programs bring in many students from various backgrounds with diverse research interests and career goals. Here’s what a few of our visiting students had to say about their research experiences and future aspirations:


- Stephanie Nemec -

“Since no one says dream small, my goal is to one day lead a renowned team of research scientists as the CTO (chief technical officer) or director of research & development at a major healthcare company. My background is in engineering with an interest in biological applications.  This summer, I hope to enhance my critical thinking and questioning abilities to develop novel biomaterial diagnostic and treatment devices to help enhance and facilitate patient care. 

This summer has provided insight into biological barriers and signals that allow and sometimes hinder the body’s function.  I have developed a fascination with how cancers form and develop.  What triggers cells to mutate and metastasize in potentially every corner of the body?  The best way to learn something is to experiment with it: to see how it adapts and determine how and why it functions, directing advancement of diagnosis and treatment.  Working in Dr. Billadeau’s lab at Mayo has allowed me to ask more questions and develop scientifically sound ways to test my queries.  This means you rarely get it right from the start and are still pushing for results and information even after your 15th ‘failed’ experiment.  By working with, observing, and getting to know researchers with vast experience, I hope to develop my scientific “gut” and become an influential scientist to make an impact in research as well as the everyday lives of society at large.”

Stephanie is a rising senior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagn. She is studying Materials Science & Engineering and will minor in Hoeft Technology & Management. She is currently with Dr. Dan Billadeau’s group in the Gonda Building.


- Kyle Gibbs –

“I’m a student from rural Colorado who always wanted to be a ‘discoverist’ and was crushed, as a six-year-old, when told that the world lacked such a career.  Yet, in ways, that is what Mayo Clinic is teaching me to be this summer.  I work in Dr. Cattaneo’s lab, in the Virology and Gene Therapy program. Our focus is on developing viral vectors for oncolysis (cancer killing).  I chose this simply because the idea of gene therapy interested me.  However, this has exposed me to a whole new area of biomedical research, molecular medicine, which I am now seriously considering.  Fundamentally, I possess an interest in too many different areas of biomedical research and am struggling to decide what to pursue in graduate school.  Molecular medicine offers an exciting combination between the basic discoveries of science and a persistent vision for a better society.  Contributing even a small part to the drive towards individualized medicine offers a potentially satisfying and fulfilling career.  Even if I ultimately pursue a different field, Mayo’s environment has exposed me to a fundamentally more fascinating research area than the agricultural herbicides, in which I’ve researched previously.  And that hope is what one needs to become a discoverist.”

Kyle attends St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN and is originally from Laporte, CO. He previously was involved in research which investigated mechanisms of herbicide resistance at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. He is the Vice President of the St. Olaf Molecular Society, and is an editor for the Christian Journal of Thought. Kyle is a middle school tutor and enjoys playing intramurals in his free time.  He is currently with Dr. Roberto Cattaneo’s group in the Guggenheim building.


- Cristina Alcaraz –

“With every new chapter in my life, I take a step closer to reaching my personal and professional goal: to improve the health of medically underserved populations as a well-qualified physician.  I aspire to expand the knowledge of health ailments that afflict these communities and to develop prevention and treatment methodologies that are personalized to the patient.  The Summer Research Fellowship at Mayo Clinic has allowed me to engage in patient-oriented research, to expand on new discoveries, and to maintain my primary focus on patient needs.  My previous research experience in Dr. Christian Melander’s bioorganic chemistry laboratory at North Carolina State University afforded me much insight into research in the biomedical sciences.  During my two year contribution, I participated on many projects to synthesize small organic molecules that inhibit biofilm formation in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Through my work, I saw the importance of basic science research which is driven by its potential to impact patient care. Today, it is this enjoyment and ultimate satisfaction that fuels my interest in patient-oriented research.  The research opportunities at the Mayo Clinic have allowed me to explore patient-oriented research with world renowned faculty and to learn how to innovate medicine while keeping patients in the highest regard. In my future practice of medicine, I seek to blend my academic interests in clinical research with my passion for working directly with patients of underserved populations. My participation in this amazing program has been my next step in achieving this goal.”

Cristina is a rising 2nd year medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University and is originally from Roxboro, North Carolina. In her free time, she enjoys dancing and playing video games. Cristina is currently with Dr. Roberto Simari’s lab in the Stabile Building.


- Allen Zhu -

“One of the greatest aspects of the SURF program here is the allowance for independent research.  At least for me, I have the opportunity to pursue my own research project in a field that I'm interested in.  This sort of inquiry arises from independent learning and will be important as I continue to develop as a student engaged in the medical sciences.  I believe that we can change the world through health.  One day, we can live without having to worry about injury and harm to our physical nature, not because we will be living in a perfectly safe place, but because we will have solutions to almost any problem.  There will never be a final answer, but as long as we continue striving, science will continue to shape our world.  My research experiences here have taught me the tools and skills necessary to be a part of this drive.  Mayo is a great place to learn and I'm excited to be spending a summer here.”

Allen is a rising senior from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD where he is majoring in Biomedical Engineering. His hometown is Fort Collins, CO and he intends to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. He enjoys playing soccer and break dancing in his spare time. Allen is currently in Dr. Michael J. Yaszemski’s lab in the Medical Sciences building where he is investigating the ability of biocompatible polymers to regenerate cartilage tissue.


Thanks to all of our visiting summer students for joining us and best of luck in the future!!


-  Carl Gustafson



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