Ask an Intern: Global Disease Biology Major in a Lab

Anna Fox is a third-year undergraduate student in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a global disease biology major. I caught up with Anna to learn more about her internship in a research lab, how she found the opportunity, and her advice to other college students searching for a learning opportunity outside of the classroom. She was excited to share her experience. Anna holds a lot of pride and gratitude for attending a research university.

What is your current internship role and what does it entail?

Currently I am an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Kent Pinkerton’s inhalation toxicology lab. We use mice to model the human respiratory system and expose them to different inhalants, like nanoparticles, tobacco, and e-cigarette vape. I’m specifically working to support one of our graduate students Morgan Poindexter, who is an immunology PhD candidate, and we are looking to see if exposure to vape leads to irregularities in gene expression that may cause one to have a weakened immune system. 

Can you take us through a typical day in the lab?

Sure! Depending on the project things can vary, but I stay in communication with Dr. Pinkerton or a grad student to figure out the tasks for the day. Right now what I am doing is getting us ready to run a PCR [polymerase chain reaction], which is genome expression analysis of some tissues we have already extracted. So when I get to the lab, I take out the samples from our -80 degree freezer. Then, I run through a procedure to turn our lung samples into a liquid that we can then use and isolate the RNA from. And then we convert this RNA into DNA that we then use to run qPCR on the genes we are interested in. 

How did you find the position? What was the interview process?

I got connected with Dr. Pinkerton after doing some thorough research on UC Davis faculty. When I looked into his work I was really interested in getting involved. So I sent him an email, then we set up a time for a Zoom interview, and after that I went into the lab to chat again and begin my on boarding process. Dr. Pinkerton is truly such a kind mentor and really cherishes the opportunity to teach others. 

What is your major and how has it prepared you for this type of role?

I am a global disease biology major, and my prior coursework in microbiology, epidemiology and genetics definitely has helped me out in understanding the concepts we work with in our lab.

What is the most useful thing you have learned from your experience?

I think joining a research lab can be really daunting, and as an undergrad, it’s easy to feel like you might not have the right skills to support the team. But if you are in the right lab they’ll teach you anything you need to know just be willing and curious.

What advice would you give to other undergraduates looking for their first internship?

If you are looking to get involved in research don’t get discouraged! UC Davis has plenty of research opportunities, but you have to take initiative, find what interests you and reach out!

Leah Kalish is a third-year student majoring in sociology — organizational studies, with minors in education and professional writing. In addition to interning with the Majors Blog, she works as a student assessment researcher at the Center for Educational Effectiveness.

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