Ask Jenny Loome ’18 why she came to Rhodes College, and she’ll tell you one of the big reasons is the St. Jude Summer Plus Fellowship. This partnership between Rhodes and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital connects students with independent research labs at the hospital, where they will work alongside professionals for a full school year plus two summers. Student research positions within such prestigious labs are competitive and highly sought after. Loome notes the rarity of spots particularly for undergraduate students, as larger universities generally offer them to graduate students.
Each student who participates in the Summer Plus Program will find him or herself with a unique project. For Loome, it was epigenetic regulation in embryos. She worked with proteins to discover which genes get used in which cells. These genes would then have an impact on the development of the embryo. It’s serious work, but Loome finds the humor, too. “It’s mostly pipetting clear liquids,” she laughs. “Some days you get to use a green one, that’s a special day.” But Loome’s day-to-day work is a part of a greater picture of change. The research Loome works on remains in direct dialogue with the hospital, which means that each new discovery can mean new medicines, new procedures, and new research. Since 1962, St. Jude has helped to increase the overall survival rate for childhood cancers from 20% to 80%.
Partway through her fellowship, Loome was transferred to a different project, as the first one was nearing publication from a different lab. This is no rare occurrence in an ever-evolving lab. Still involved in epigenetic regulation, Loome now investigates the role of a different protein in neural development. She will continue to work in the lab through the summer as part of the program.
While her work isn’t done yet, Loome has already learned quite a bit. She cites her growth in laboratory etiquette, multitasking, and even coordination, joking that her family noticed her improvement while playing volleyball with her (all that working with her hands!). In addition to what she’s learned while in the lab, Loome has been exposed to many different fields of research. She works alongside people of all levels, including Ph.D. students and international students from graduate schools in France. During the summer St. Jude hosts lunch lectures for a separate undergraduate program, which focuses on introducing new topics of research and study. Often Loome would get the opportunity to sit in and listen to some of St. Jude’s top researchers, doctors, and educators.
Loome isn’t sure what the future holds for her after the program, but she is leaning towards pursuing more research, as she finds herself in the lab more often than not. “It’s the best part of my week, every week,” she says.
By Swaneet Mand ‘18