Three students ‘pioneer’ summer program at JAX Genomic Medicine

For decades, the Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Student Program has provided high school and undergraduate students a hands-on summer of science under the mentorship of top-shelf researchers at the Bar Harbor campus. Now, as the Laboratory expands into Connecticut with The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, its longtime commitment to student education it is following suit.

This year, the JAX Summer Student Program has supported three students at JAX Genomic Medicine on the campus of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

"These students are pioneering the Summer Student program at JAX Genomic Medicine," says Tom Litwin, vice president for education at the Laboratory. "They are the first to test out the idea of an intercampus program."

 Sophie deBruijn and Jared Gravely

The students, all residents of Connecticut, are:

  • Jacqueline Duhl (not pictured), 19, of Woodbridge, who is about to enter her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania. Her summer placement was in the laboratory of Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., where she studied DNA transcription factors and their effects on protein bonding.  

  • Jared Gravely, 17, of West Hartford, who will enter the UConn Honors program as a freshman this year. Gravely worked in the laboratory of bioinformaticist Jeffrey Chuang, Ph.D., comparing the accuracy of accepted methods for determining the purity and heterogeneity of tumor samples.     

  • Sophie deBruijn, 16, of Westport, a senior at Staples High School in Westport. DeBruijn worked on identifying and testing for genetic markers that track the early development of ovarian cancer.

The students lived at home with their families and spent their days working alongside JAX personnel in the day-to-day operations of the research environment.

"They were all wonderful," Duhl says of Raun and his laboratory staff. "They were so welcoming and patient, willing to teach me everything. They treated me as an absolute equal. I never felt like a burden, and I looked forward to going into the lab every day."

The students interacted regularly via teleconference with their peers and program leaders in Maine, and with the exception of Duhl, travelled to the Bar Harbor campus this week to present their final scientific papers. (Duhl started and completed her summer session earlier than the other students so she could begin a semester studying marine biology in Australia.)

While student scientists have been drawn to the Bar Harbor campus since the Laboratory’s founding in 1929, the new JAX Genomic Medicine site offers them a unique research experience. There, JAX genomicists are building research collaborations with clinical counterparts, bringing genomic discovery closer to the patient-care setting. This environment offers Farmington-based students the possibility of rubbing shoulders with clinical researchers at area health care institutions. And the evolving partnership with UConn and the UConn Health Center promises an environment enriched by additional research and academic activities.

Next year, Litwin expects to place up to 15 students at JAX Genomic Medicine, with housing available at UConn’s main campus in Storrs. He stresses that the 10-week Summer Student Program will remain a single, integrated program that offers each student the opportunity to spend a season in the company of distinguished scientists and peers with similar interests. But now, that opportunity can be realized at two sites instead of one.

"We’ll be seeing a regular flow of participants back and forth between the campuses," he says. "Our summer students will get to see the whole spectrum, from pure research to applied translational studies. This is an opportunity to show them a range of career paths in scientific research."  
The Summer Student Program, funded by grants and private philanthropy, attracts bright young scientists from around the country. In Bar Harbor, the students are housed at Highseas, the Laboratory’s oceanside estate, and receive a modest living stipend. Students also benefit from the supportive culture of the Laboratory community and, in Bar Harbor, from the surrounding natural beauty of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. The program is highly competitive – for the 35 Bar Harbor slots available in 2013, Litwin’s office fielded close to 700 applications.

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