MDI Biological Laboratory

A Springboard for Science Achievement: Biomedical Education on Maine’s Coast

  • December 14, 2022

It’s the time of year when college students start making their summer plans – and when MDI Biological Laboratory faculty and staff start looking forward to the next season’s wave of curious, enthusiastic and inspiring summer fellows.

Training the next generation of scientists is a significant part of MDIBL’s mission and without the support of our wonderful community, these vital educational opportunities wouldn’t be possible.

During their 10 weeks at the Laboratory, the fellows are exposed to real-world bench science, supported by courses that focus on research methods, ethics, career development, innovation, and more. Not to mention immersion in a collegial and collaborative campus environment, with facilities and dorms situated on Frenchman Bay, near Acadia National Park.

One recent fellow, Elena Singer-Freeman, liked her first summer’s experience so well, she came back again last summer. Now a Biochemistry major at Wake Forest University, she joined the lab of Hermann Haller, M.D., MDIBL’s president and an international leader in the regeneration of damaged kidneys.

“If you are interested in research, going to MDIBL is one of the best things you can do for yourself,” says Singer-Freeman.

Singer-Freeman was enrolled in MDIBL’s “Research Experience for Undergraduates” fellowship, or REU, which is sanctioned by the National Science Foundation. MDIBL also operates the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) fellowship, funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Creation of diabetic nephropathy disease model posterWorking in the Lab’s state-of-the-art facilities, Singer-Freeman engineered a transgenic zebrafish that provides a model for studying diabetes in humans. She says she was amazed by the friendly, hands-on mentorship from Haller and his team (see her poster at left).

“It’s not like one of those really high-stress academic environments where the point is weeding people out,” she says. “It is very caring and cultivating. And you’ll get all the experience you need to be prepared for a career in research as an undergraduate.”

One highlight of the summer is the students’ development of a robust scientific communication toolkit. And this November, Singer-Freeman put her communication skills to the test on a national stage, at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Students (ABRCMS).

For 20 years, ABRCMS has been the premiere conference for undergraduate and graduate students from backgrounds that historically have been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. ABRCMS is a hub for networking, graduate school recruitment and other scientific research opportunities. It provides a unique forum for undergraduates to demonstrate their scientific prowess and continue to grow.

When she heard about the opportunities that ABRCMS provides, and with the support of the MDIBL Education staff, Singer-Freeman took advantage of an REU travel grant and then was awarded an ABRCMS Student Travel Award to attend ABRCMS 2022 in Anaheim, CA.

“At MDIBL I learned that even if you are presenting to an actual scientific audience, it’s never bad to make it more understandable than to be tempted to just throw around big scientific words,” she says. “It’s always good in science to be able to explain it to people from more general audiences even while you’re talking to scientific audiences.”

Thanks in part to the critical thinking and communications skills she developed at MDIBL, she was honored for an oral presentation she made about her kidney research.

“It boosts your confidence that you have the potential to make it in the scientific world,” she says. “I link MDIBL to a great deal of my success as an undergraduate student.”