Earlier this year Rose Besen-McNally graduated from College of the Atlantic with a degree in human ecology. During her freshman year, Rose applied for a student research fellowship at the MDI Biological Laboratory through the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research (INBRE).
Although Rose had not previously considered a career in research, after spending just a few weeks at the MDI Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) she knew that she had found her passion. Below are excerpts from a recent interview.
I came to MDIBL with very little knowledge of what research looked like, and now I’m planning on spending my life doing this work. It’s uncanny how much an experience like this can change your life— Rose Besen-McNally
and what you think you want.
Q: What has your experience at MDIBL and in the INBRE program meant to you?
This experience has been my whole education. The work I’ve done at College of the Atlantic is good and I needed that as a base, but to be able to come here and just jump right into my own project has allowed me to understand what it feels like to take something from it’s very beginning stages — where you are trouble-shooting every issue, every day — and be able to learn from that and get to really understand the system you’re working with.
A: It has allowed me to ask questions … in a unique way. Working with Dr. Losick, I’ve had a lot of flexibility with what I do. She trusted me in the first year to start a very broad-spectrum screen to identify a receptor that she was interested in looking at. I narrowed it down to beta integrin, which has been the focus of my project since the beginning of my second year.
Q: What role did your mentor play in making this a meaningful experience for you?
A: She nurtured the scientist in me. She gave me the freedom to figure things out on my own, but didn’t let me get so stuck on a problem that I ended up hating what I was doing. She helped guide me to the answer, but never did the work for me. And it’s so exciting when you finally figure it out for yourself and can say, ‘It worked! I have results!’ There’s nothing like it.
That’s what been so wonderful working with Dr. Losick. She encourages us to consider why this work matters, and to think about the practical application of our work. What we are doing is basic genetic research, but we can connect this research to wound repair and other diseases that cause tissue degeneration, including cancer.
My experience at COA taught me the importance of seeing how all these small pieces fit together into a bigger picture — in this case finding something within science that will lead to a better future for aging populations in the US, and certainly in the state of Maine. It’s really important to me, no matter what audience I’m talking to, to bring it back to “Why does this matter?” and “What is the practical long-term application of what we are looking at?” I see my work as a mechanism for mammalian livers to regenerate and also as mechanism for kidneys to regenerate. And that’s pretty exciting.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I want to go to graduate school and get my Ph.D., and I’d love to come back and work at an institution like MDIBL and continue to ask the questions I’m interested and excited about. I would like to be able to give people like me — undergrads, high school students, graduate students — the same opportunities I’ve had and to be able to mentor them. It is really valuable. INBRE allowed me to do that by giving me that first push — the funding to work in a bio lab — but at the time I had no idea what that really entailed. This is the future of medicine. This is the future of health. So, for me, it has made that whole idea very real. I think it’s important to instill that concept in future generations.
Q: What would you say to the funders that made this opportunity possible?
A: I would tell them how much this experience has meant to me both for personal development as well as education. I came here with really no knowledge of what research looked like and I’m leaving here planning on spending my life doing this work. It’s really had a genuine impact on how I view the world and also on how I view research science. It’s truly a valuable experience that you can’t replace with anything else. Being here, being in the lab, getting to do that work, when you finally get that first result that actually means something, it’s uncanny how much it can change your life and what you think you want.
Definitely the INBRE partnership between MDIBL and COA has changed my life.