Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News (CRN) column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Karly Hamilton, a high school junior at Brimmer in Chestnut Hill, and a summer research trainee in the Kwiatkowski lab.

Karly Hamilton headshot

Karly Hamilton

As a high school student with no prior experience in the research world, I did not know what to expect when I first came to the Kwiatkowski lab. Here, investigators study a rare genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), which causes benign tumors to grow on various organs, such as the kidneys, lungs and brain.

At the beginning of this summer when I joined the lab, I was unfamiliar with TSC and many of the protocols used in the lab, but by the end of my time at the Brigham, I was amazed at how much knowledge I had acquired.

Before joining the team, I had a basic understanding of research and the long hours that accompany it, but I did not know that these things would positively affect the interactions researchers have with one another each day. As I look back on the incredible experiences I had here, I realized that many of them have a common theme: collaboration. From my first day in the lab to my last, I witnessed countless examples of collaboration in action, and one simple moment in particular had a strong impact on me.

Witnessing Kindness Firsthand

During my second week in the lab, two postdocs were talking with one another about the details of a DNA extraction protocol; one of them was unfamiliar with extractions on this type of sample and the other — my supervisor — had worked with this type of sample before.

Figuring I would not have anything to add to the conversation, I started to prepare our work area for the next task. As I cleaned the bench, I was still aware of the discussion occurring nearby and found myself intrigued.

I heard my supervisor, postdoctoral fellow Katarzyna (Kasia) Klonowska, PhD, mention that the following day would be my first time using the protocol, so she was planning to walk me through it. She then offered to print a copy of the protocol and invited the postdoc to come back the next day to go through each step in detail with us.

I stopped cleaning and my hand halted, the bottle of ethanol I was holding frozen mid-spray. I was touched by what I had just witnessed –– support and kindness for one another.

The postdoc graciously accepted my supervisor’s offer. To others, it might have seemed like a minor gesture, but, to me, it illustrated something more. Here was an example of a busy researcher going above and beyond to share her knowledge, not because she was looking for something in return, but simply to help pave the way for someone else to succeed.

A Different Kind of Breakthrough

Throughout my internship experience, I have learned so much, including how to work hard and be successful while supporting those around me. Most importantly, I have learned to take nothing for granted.

Every scientific concept detailed in textbooks and each medical diagnosis made in the clinic are possible because people have spent their lives performing one of many other steps that go into making further progress in the medical field, including putting together proposals and grant applications.

Before this summer, I did not realize how time-consuming this work can be. I now have seen how hard all researchers — whether they are principal investigators, trainees or somewhere in between — work each day to make as much progress as they can, even though no breakthrough is guaranteed.

My understanding of what it means to be a collaborative team member is the most impactful change I have noticed in myself since the start of the summer. After seeing how enthusiastic everyone in the lab was to help each other, I realized working with others is a vital skill that can be used in all aspects of life.

A little extra guidance and kindness from a colleague can mean the difference between a protocol that works and one that does not. Taking the time to train someone else can bloom from a small act of generosity into a fruitful collaboration or successful experiment.

This especially applies to situations where there are no guarantees. No protocols run in the lab are a sure thing, and there is always a chance of making an error.

Learning to adapt to situations and look to others for guidance is a critical skill in the research world. It is inspiring to watch people bond over knowledge.

As the summer ends and school resumes, I take what I have learned in the Kwiatkowski lab with me, knowing my experiences there have provided me with a new insight into myself and how I can become a stronger learner.

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