Ratna Sharma is the first to agree that her actual summer looked vastly different to the one she had planned. The rising senior had carefully researched, collated and applied for the summer experiences she wanted to participate in – even going the extra mile, personally reaching out to Dr. Aric Rogers, who she wished to have as a mentor – when COVID-related precautions changed everything.
She had been accepted into a number of programs and then, almost overnight, all of them were cancelled. “I’m starting to work on my college applications, and these experiences are a huge part of that, so I reached out and asked if there was any way of making my fellowship at MDIBL virtual,” Ratna says.
She ended up being one of just four high schoolers who participated in the MDI Biological Laboratory’s 2020 summer fellowship program, supported by the Constance Laibe Hays Fellowship Fund. Paired with Dr. Zhengxin Ma, a Postdoc in the Rogers Lab, Ratna was tasked with completing a literature review on nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, as base information for a paper Ma is working on.
A challenge to start with, Ratna says reading the scientific literature got easier the more she did it, and that she enjoyed the autonomy Drs. Rogers and Ma gave her. “We’d do a morning check in where I could ask questions and they’d give me my goals for the day. I liked the independence they gave me,” she says. “I also helped make models and tables – I feel like I’ve gained a thorough knowledge of the topic.”
While she’s still not sure of where college might take her just yet – she’s thinking Pre-Med, Bio, Engineering or Chemical Engineering at the moment – she knows that her time with the Rogers Lab this summer has at least clarified that biology and the type of research being done at MDIBL definitely holds interest for her.
Overall she says her fellowship was an enjoyable and valuable experience. “I’m so appreciative of the effort from the Lab to make the fellowships virtual, to make it possible for me to take part,” she says, knowing that many other students may have missed out this summer.