Summer Stipends Send Illinois Tech Undergrads to the Lab

July 29, 2019

Forget the beach. Anam Adil (BCHM 2nd Year) says she’s enthusiastically spending her summer this year working in a lab conducting pioneering cancer research side-by-side with master’s students and Ph.D. candidates.

She is one of eight Illinois Institute of Technology College of Science undergraduates to receive a Summer Research Stipend this year. Spending 10 weeks working in Professor of Biology Jialing Xiang’s lab, Adil says the $5,000 stipend is “an added bonus,” and the experience she is gaining in the lab is invaluable.

“We’re so fortunate to have a school that’s research-forward,” she says. “I’m learning a lot from the other graduate students in the lab. I was totally lost at the beginning and had no idea about most of the scientific content they were talking about. But I picked it up pretty fast, and I’m starting to understand more each day.”

Adil’s project this summer involves an examination of the Bax–∆2 protein in breast cancer. Bax–∆2 is a tumor suppressor mainly found in healthy tissue, where it mitigates cell death, but it somehow disappears in cancerous tissue. The lack of Bax–∆2 had been discovered in colon cancer, and Adil wants to know whether the Bax–∆2 proteins also disappear in breast cancer. 

Adil says she has been immune–staining breast tissue samples, searching for the Bax–∆2-positive cells and learning to distinguish healthy tissue from cancerous tissue by looking at pathological slides.

Xiang says she is able to obtain all kinds of clinical samples from commercial sources and bring them to her lab, providing students enriched, hands–on research opportunities tackling real–world health problems in a standard medical research laboratory setting.

“This experience is especially valuable to a pre-med student like Anam,” Xiang says. “Almost all medical schools are conducting research nowadays. With this lab experience she will be ready to hit the ground running, and it will give her a competitive edge not only in the application process, but also in participation of medical research when she is medical school.”

“Most importantly, the lab training will sharpen our students’ critical thinking and problem–solving skills, and set up good work ethics,” Xiang adds. “All of these things are critical for higher-education professionals, and especially medical doctors.”

Adil says she knew she wanted to begin research during her second semester at Illinois Tech. She investigated the different labs on campus and reached out to Xiang to see if there was an opportunity in her lab, as Xiang’s work appealed to her. 

“Working in a lab is a very intense challenge,” Adil says. “I had to learn all the techniques in a short time, perform experiments, and present my results at a lab meeting every week.”

Sitting in on a four-hour lab meeting each Friday, listening to what Xiang and the students were discussing initially made her head spin, Adil says. Still,  she returned each week feeling more comfortable, understanding more, and increasing her participation in the discussions.

“Working with the lab team members is enjoyable and fun,” Adil says. “We help each other, eat lunch together, and celebrate birthdays together. We share the struggles and joys just like a family. My mom even cooked us a big tray of biryani for our lunch day, and everybody loved it!”

Adil says Xiang invited her to apply for the Summer Research Stipend, and offered her the Bax-∆2 lab project to conduct. Adil says she plans to put the $5,000 award toward her tuition.

“When I asked Dr. Xiang for a research opportunity, I wasn’t expecting a stipend or to get a monetary value out of it,” she says. “I’m here to learn about her research and learn about being in a lab, so the stipend was an awesome surprise.”

The College of Science at Illinois Tech awards Summer Research Stipends to full-time undergraduate students in good standing. The stipends are funded by the College of Science Advisory Board and donations from alumni. They are intended to engage undergraduates in research that will enrich their experience at Illinois Tech, allowing them to explore their interests, solve problems, and advance their knowledge, and to prepare them for their next steps, whether it be graduate school, medical school, or the workplace.

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