Abigail Collins (Department of Bioengineering), MIT Summer 2019
In summer 2019, I spent 7 weeks at MIT. I was working with a lab which specialises in cancer research, and more specifically the degradation or downregulation of oncological protein targets that have up until now been considered ‘undruggable’. Over the course of this placement I assisted my host supervisor with their research into the selective degradation of a mutated androgen receptor – thought to be crucial in late-stage prostate cancer.
Through the course of the research I learned a lot about chemical synthesis and purification. This was particularly useful to me as I haven’t done much chemistry since my GCSEs! I performed different target engagement studies to determine whether a certain compound would bind to target proteins. Though our first study did not go as planned, we conducted a second study to determine why.
This experience taught me a lot about scientific research, and how especially in biological work a negative result is still a good one once you figure out why!
As expected, the work that I took on while I was at MIT was challenging and incredibly rewarding. What I did not expect, however, was the warm welcome I received by the research group, the university, and above all my fellow students. My colleagues introduced me to the best restaurants and pubs in the area and were always available when I needed assistance or advice. The Institute I worked with put on weekly talks by their foremost researchers for summer students, which were deeply inspiring. One particularly interesting talk was by Prof. Nancy Hopkins, a pioneer of developmental and cancer genetics. In the mid-90s, she founded a committee to investigate the issue of inequalities experienced by women faculty as a result of unconscious gender bias. She is credited with launching a national re-examination of equity for women scientists. As a female scientist and engineer, this talk resonated with me, and it was particularly interesting to compare my experiences with hers – vastly different but occurring only 20 years after the formation of that committee.
During this placement I had the opportunity to talk with researchers in a range of positions, from PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to Prof. Robert Langer – arguably the most celebrated bioengineer in the world. The wide range of insights I received during this placement solidified my interest in pursuing a PhD and gave me the confidence to consider the US as a potential location for postgraduate study.
With the other IROP students, I explored Boston and the surrounding New England area, visiting the historical towns of Lexington and Salem, the bustling metropolis of New York, and the impressive capital of Washington D.C. The 4th of July was one of the first days of our IROP, and it was a lovely experience watching the fireworks and the Boston Pops by the Charles river. Overall this IROP was an amazing experience, both inside and out of the lab, and I would highly recommend it!
"The wide range of insights I received during this placement solidified my interest in pursuing a PhD and gave me the confidence to consider the US as a potential location for postgraduate study."