This story first appeared in the Information Point newsletter Our World in 2017 when Allie Welter told the Information Point about the internship she had recently completed at the Beggs Laboratory in Boston.
Allie Welter is a biochemistry/molecular biology major in her junior year at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Allie’s brother Andy is diagnosed with X-linked myotubular myopathy and she recently completed an internship at the Beggs Laboratory in Boston, one of a number of research labs which study the condition. Below Allie writes about her internship and her studies.
I became a biochemistry/molecular biology major because I have always been very interested in genetics and this major gave me the opportunity to take lots of classes within that field. My interest in genetics comes from my younger brother Andy. Genetics has always been a huge part of my life because of him.
At Eau Claire, I work with the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, specifically with enhancer mutations that cause the plant to be hypersensitive to red light and grow really short. Right now, we are currently mapping where these mutations are in the genome in hopes to learn more about these mutations effects on the plant. I got involved in research my first semester of my freshman year, since I am a Blugold Fellow (an opportunity which allows Freshmen to work on special projects or collaborative research). I reached out to Dr Gingerich, who is an associate professor in the Biology department, after reading about some of his projects to see if he had openings in his lab and have worked with him ever since.
Being involved in undergraduate research has helped me in my lab classes at the university, since I have learned some of the skills already from my research lab. Going into my internship in Boston, I noticed I picked up on new lab skills and techniques easier because of my research background and what I learned during my undergraduate research experience with Dr Gingerich. Since I had already learned basic genetic techniques, it allowed me to focus on learning new skills and build off of what I already knew.
In Boston, I spent the summer working with Dr Alan Beggs studying congenital myopathies, or muscle disorders that mostly involve the skeletal muscles. I introduced myself to Dr Beggs at the MTM-CNM family conference and talked to him about how I was interested in research and genetics in the future, then when I was looking for internships, I reached out to him to see if any opportunities were available to work in his lab and he remembered me.
It wasn’t actually too difficult for me to get the internship, since Dr Beggs had already met me several times at family conferences and knew that I would work hard in this lab. It put me a step ahead of other people applying for this internship because I wasn’t afraid to introduce myself and talk with Dr Beggs at these conferences.
People are often surprised at how I seemed to land this internship ‘easily’ but it was through maintaining a professional relationship with a researcher. Networking is huge in science and making connections with professionals, who can provide great opportunities like this one, opened me up to a great experience. I enjoyed interning in a lab that studies a specific disease too, since it’s easier to dive into specific topics and not just focus on general themes that you often do in university lectures.
In the Beggs Lab I got to work with animal models including zebrafish and mice, which was out of my comfort zone since I work with plants in Eau Claire. It took me some time to get used to working with an organism that actually moves, but it definitely got easier with time. My favorite part of this internship was the variety of things I got to try and learn while there. I got to help with a CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing project with zebrafish, monitor the progress of mice with one of the muscle mutations after it received a new gene therapy treatment, create myoblast/fibroblast cell cultures from mouse dissections, along with improving my skills at other basic genetic techniques such as PCR and agarose gel electrophoresis.
I learned how to use some different equipment that we don’t have at Eau Claire, like a cryostat, which makes thin slices of tissue that you put on microscope slides to stain and observe. This was exciting to use because a cryostat is a machine I had only read about in my textbooks, and I never thought I would learn to use one on my own this summer.
The internship was a great experience, as I got to interact with current graduate students and hear about their experiences, learn from Ph.D.’s about how they got to where they are today, and build connections with other interns. At first, I was nervous going all the way to Boston for an internship, since I knew nobody directly in the city, but I learned a lot from adapting to living in a big city and making friends/connections around Boston.
The internship reassured me that I am in the right field and got me excited for my future career. As of right now, I am planning on going to graduate school to either get a masters or Ph.D. in a biochemistry/biomedical program and would like eventually to work in or have my own research lab in the future. For women considering a STEM major, I would say do not let the fact that it is looked upon as a male dominated field scare you away. If you have the passion, take opportunities and open yourself up to new experiences, you can find success no matter what your gender.