The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) has established an Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Graduate Program in Life Sciences and the UMB Graduate School. The ECBC-UMB Student Internship Program (EUSIP) allows students currently pursuing a master’s degree in molecular medicine or toxicology at UMB an opportunity to work alongside experienced ECBC scientists at ECBC facilities and fosters a mutually beneficial technology transfer and collaborative relationship between the two parties.
Continuing into fiscal year 2014 - 2015, participating students will work on ongoing research projects with an ECBC Principal Investigator and conduct research that can be used toward fulfillment of their UMB degree requirements. Interns gain access to the state-of-the-art research facilities at ECBC, as well as experts who can also serve as career mentors. ECBC in turn benefits from the students’ fresh scientific insights and techniques while enhancing their capability to recruit new talent into careers within the Department of Defense (DoD).
Robert Dorsey, the BioSensors Branch Chief, and co-lead Jeff Ballin, Ph.D., an Excet Inc., a research biologist working within the BioTechnology Branch, looked for new ways to improve recruitment and innovation into their projects . Previously, interns came from high schools or undergraduate institutions to work at ECBC during their summer break. However, as a large portion student time was often used for paperwork and training, many found the time spent by students doing actual laboratory work was often too short to make a significant impact.
Dr. Ballin said his main goal in selecting projects and PIs for this program was finding people who could serve as good career mentors for the students while providing research programs with strong opportunities for growth and development.
“This program relies on mentors who are more than just good researchers. We need good researchers who can also foster the growth of a student. The PIs serve on the student’s thesis committee since the work done with the PI is the central focus of the thesis. A student must have the right support for their professional career to flourish,” Ballin said.
One of the first students to participate in this program is Ashley Larsen. Larsen sat down with us to discuss some of her experiences thus far with ECBC.
How did you find out about ECBC’s program?
I found out about the EUSIP program through my graduate school; I attended a presentation in which several representatives from ECBC provided brief overviews of the projects they are working on and which graduate students would be helpful and able to learn.
What is your academic background?
I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012, graduating with a B.S. in
Biological Sciences with an emphasis on microbiology. More recently I just successfully completed my master’s program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, graduating with a M.S. in Molecular Medicine and specializing in physiology/ pharmacology.
What are you working on right now and with whom?
I am currently working with Dr. Henry S. Gibbons on a project that focuses on developing an ideal Bacillus anthracis surrogate strain to predict the behavior of potential biothreat agents within the environment. My current goal is to improve the efficiency of integration of a stable genetic tag into a surrogate organism in order to make its detection via specific PCR assays in environmental simulations easier.
What has been the most interesting part of your work so far?
The most interesting part of my work so far is being able to work towards a goal that I can visualize having real-world applications. In the past, my lab work has been focused mostly on academics and trying to understand particular biological phenomena rather than trying to create an end product that can be used to help people in real life.
How have you applied your work at ECBC to your coursework, and vice versa: how have you applied some of your coursework to this internship?
The core course that all life science graduate students are required to take at UMB provided me with a generalized overview of many advanced molecular biology techniques. I was able to use that knowledge extensively in the lab, as I am mostly performing molecular cloning and use several molecular diagnostic tests to verify my results. Additionally, I have been able to use what I have learned in the lab to further expand upon my basic molecular biology knowledge and revisit the microbiology aspect of my studies.
What are your plans for the future?
My future plans are currently undecided. I have always been extremely interested in the medical field, so applying to medical school or to a physician assistant program may be one option. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the current research that has been ongoing in the fields of biology and medicine, so I may decide to apply to a Ph.D. program and focus more on host-pathogen interactions within the next few years.
Ashley Larsen (pictured above), was the first student to participate in the ECBC-UMB Student Internship Program in January 2014. Larsen graduated UMB in May 2014 with an M.S. in Molecular Medicine and specializing in physiology/ pharmacology, and completed the ECBC internship program at the same time. Currently, she is continuing her science career with ECBC as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow within ECBC’s BioSciences Division.