An Opportunity for Undergraduate Research at the National Institute of Health

By Maeve Godshalk
Junior, Forensic Science and Law

Photo of Jessica GhobrialAs a dedicated junior Biology/Pre-Med major, Jessica Ghobrial can often be found in Mellon Hall or the Gumberg Library. It comes as no surprise that this past summer, she had the opportunity to do an external undergraduate research program at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Ghobrial specifically worked in the branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). "My lab focused on the effects of erythropoietin on adipogenesis (fat production). In the literature, there is a stark contrast between the effects of erythropoietin in male and female mice. My task was to delve deeper into the effects of fat production when supplemented with erythropoietin and estrogen."

At the NIH, Ghobrial was a part of a small program focused on diversity in research. She worked a regular forty-hour work week. Most of the time was spent in lab, but she notes that there were always seminars going on. "We were able to sit in on some talks given by scientists in a variety of fields of research. It was also really nice being at the NIH because you had access to a lot of other resources outside of lab, like the National Library of Medicine."

Ghobrial entered the program with an advantage, as she participated at Duquesne's URP the summer prior. "I learned a lot of basic lab techniques [at Duquesne], and I think that gave me an edge when the NIH was accepting applicants. The training I got at the NIH was different in that I was being taught by people at different levels in academia. My lab had a PI, a post-doc, a med student, and undergrads. With their help, I was able to transition from working with only bacteria to properly culturing mouse cell lines. The most challenging part was that I had not taken classes like biochemistry or human physiology before my internship. As I was learning new techniques I was also learning a lot of scientific information."

The location of the NIH sits conveniently in Bethesda, Maryland which allows for trips to D.C. and surrounding areas. Ghobrial took advantage of her weekends off. "When time permitted, I was able to visit D.C. and went to free museums. I saw a live show at the Kennedy Center, went to Annapolis, and took day trips to Baltimore as well." She also notes, however, that commuting to work every day was an excursion in itself. "At Duquesne, I had the luxury of simply walking to lab every day. Now I needed to hop on the bus to get to work, where a 15-minute drive took around 45 minutes."

She states that she was able to take a lot away from her experience this summer, mainly how to properly synthesize and apply information. "Everything I learned had an application, and I needed to understand the science to properly explain to people what I was doing and why it was important. Learning by doing was really integral for me."
Ghobrial also thanks Dr. Palmer for helping her find this program, stating that Duquesne more than adequately prepared her for this experience. "My rigorous coursework prepared me to be challenged both in and out of the lab, and meet the expectations of my peers and PI."

Ghobrial still plans on attending Medical School, but notes that research is important for those pursuing a PhD or an MD. This summer, specifically, she realized that research is what bridges the gap between science and medicine; one cannot exist without the other. Everyone at Duquesne certainly wishes her the best of luck with her career, and will be rooting for her the entire way.