Van Phan ′12
Major: Biochemistry/Molecular Biology
Fun Fact: Van is from Saigon, Vietnam. At age 16, she traveled to the United States to attend the last two years of high school.
How did you get involved with the St. Jude Summer Plus program?
Actually, the St. Jude Summer Plus program was the reason I applied to Rhodes. I was accepted to other schools, but I looked at those other schools to see if they had similar cool opportunities like this, and they did not. Internships are also more difficult to find for international students like me, because we are not allowed to participate in paid work off campus, but we can work for course credit.
What is it like to work with the distinguished professionals at St. Jude?
The Summer Plus program is wonderful because Rhodes students don’t have to compete with graduate students for a place in the lab, but both groups use many of the same techniques in lab and learn from each other. At first, when I went to the lab I really felt like an undergrad who had just finished her freshman year. It was scary, seeing everyone around doing postdoctoral studies, and my faculty mentor and the post-doctoral students have M.D. and Ph.D degrees. Everyone was very nice and helpful, and they feel like a bunch of friends to me now.
What are you working on in the lab?
I’m working in the Infectious Disease lab, trying to figure out interactions between a host protein in mammalian cells and influenza type A virus proteins. It took a while to get going in our lab because the project we were working on was challenging. We had to make many of our materials instead of borrowing them from other labs. I don’t think anyone has worked on this project before.
What kinds of technology and lab techniques do you use in your experiment?
Well, we use immunoprecipitation, Western Blot, and flowcytometry extensively to detect our protein. We’ve had to change our process a few times—switching from kidney cells to lung cells, for example. With lung cells we see the protein activity much more clearly, which makes sense because the respiratory system is the first place human cells encounter flu virus.