Through their lens: Jeffrey Yu works on a cancer therapy, learns that science involves trial and error

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Jeffrey Yu pipetting in the Clarke lab at Stanford. He submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed

My name is Jeffrey Yu and I’ve been interning for the past 8 weeks in Clarke Lab at Stanford University, as part of the SIMR program. Coming into this internship, my idea of science was rote memorization and doing “experiments”, which were always pre-made and no different from following an instruction manual. I had an even shallower knowledge of stem cells. Apart from a vague understanding of the controversial embryonic stem cells and it’s regenerative potential, I knew close to nothing. Little did I know, that I was in for a transformative experience.

Expecting to pipette clear liquids into tubes monotonously for eight hours a day, I did just that. That is, until I realized why I was doing the things I did, it all started to make sense. From reading lengthy papers that made my brain hurt, to filling 92 wells in one sitting, this combination of high speed learning and AP biology lab on steroids gave me a heaping plate of what science truly was. I came to realized the methods, purpose, and direction behind every experiment done, the trial and error, the expected and actual outcomes. It was a revelation. Before this experience, science had been nothing but memorizing plant physiology and biological processes. Science to me now, is a persistent yet methodical and intelligently constructed game plan to answering questions about the natural world around us, and this self-discovery was worth the entire experience.

I’ve learn a great deal about stem cells. I would never have imagined how broad, significant, and promising the field of stem cells actually is. Working in a cancer stem cell lab, I was introduced to the idea that through thorough understanding of normal stem cell physiology, we can better identify the cells that are predisposed to oncogenesis. This harmony of the two ideas, opens up such an enormous field of study that has a very promising future. I’m now able to accurately explain to someone what a stem cell is and that there is much more to the field than embryonic stem cells (ESCs), that each organ has distinct stem cells, and for someone to attribute the term stem cell to merely ESCs is naive.

This experience has helped me realize that I want my future to be in biology and medicine, perhaps not research specifically, but a field where I’m surrounded by science. I would like to thank my mentor Shang Cai, P.I. Dr. Michael F. Clarke, and my lab partner Angela Kong for all the instruction, guidance, and support this summer. I’d have to say that this has been one of my most educational and productive summers I’ve ever spent. This real lab experience, with all the techniques and information I’ve picked up, will help me in college and beyond where I will pursue my passion in health and science.

Jeffrey Yu

Jeffrey submitted these videos about his experience:

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