Through their lens: Vanessa Yu is driven by the possibility of improving lives through research

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.

Vanessa Yu is a rising senior at Arcadia High School. This summer, she worked in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology at the City of Hope under Dr. David Ann, with day-to-day guidance from her mentor, Dr. Yong Fu. She assisted her mentor in his project to develop a comprehensive molecular and cellular characterization of the functions, identities, and mechanisms of tumor initiating cells using our genetically engineered mouse model that contains a temporally and spatially inducible K-RasG12V transgene. When she is not in the lab, she enjoys baking, swimming, practicing American Sign Language, and watching entertaining K-dramas!

Vanessa sent us this video of her experience:

When I first heard about the internship opportunity through the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Academy at City of Hope, I was ecstatic. The thought of having the chance to apply my knowledge of science outside the confinements of a classroom was and has been a dream come true. It’s hard to describe my exact reaction when I first received the ding! Email notification of my acceptance email. By my side was my ever supporting family who celebrated in the coming night with cheers and a feast to an exciting summer. My parents, both of whom work in the sciences, expressed their excitement in entering the ‘adult world’ with this opportunity that would bring me into contact with real chemicals, real protocols, and real experiment. Still to this moment, when I glance at the badge draped around my neck, I am awed and forever humbled to be a student in the program. They have given me the confidence that I, a mere high school student, will one day have the ability to someday make my own impact on the medical world.

This summer has been an amazing and eye-opening experience. I’ve never done research in a wet lab before and being able to actually perform experiments that I’ve only ever read in my AP Biology book is simply mind-blowing. It’s not just performing these experiments that I revel in, but the fact that I’m learning so much more than I ever imagined whether it be in reading up on animal cell cultures or researching the contents discussed in a lab meeting. This is what fun really is—getting paid to learn and advance myself, to mature and better the knowledge I have in order to help others. What an opportunity to be in as amazing a place as City of Hope where I am surrounded by peers and experienced mentors who are driven by the same passions I hold dear. It is here where conversations at lunch consist around scientific jargon with the same enthusiasm as if it we were talking about celebrities. The energy and optimism is truly inspirational to see and in the future, I hope to be working fulltime in such an environment that nurtures and stimulates my appetite for science.

The challenges of research are so large and emotionally draining at times that they cloud the bigger, overarching goal. Yes, it’s depressing when I don’t get the desired results from a gel. It’s frustrating when my experiments fail from a careless mistake. However, the hopeful prospect of changing others’ lives for the better and the fact that I do have the power to do that in research is what drives me, and I’m sure others, to keep going despite these obstacles. Furthermore, this summer through the much appreciated support from CIRM, has brought me into contact with the growing research world of stem cells of which the therapeutic potential is immense and exciting beyond words. It is this aspect of science where we are always discovering and finding new opportunities to cure the world of its ailments that ignites my curiosity for learning. And this internship has really shown me in a wonderful journey what I love doing the best—conducting research in the lab!

Vanessa Yu

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