Dr. Marta Miaczynska, International Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology, Warsaw, Poland
Dr. Adam Singer, Emergency Medicine, SBU
Dr. Stephen Yazulla, Neurobiology & Behavior, SBU
I like having that responsibility, I do. It is responsibility. And yes, you can't just call in, and say I can't come in today, I don't feel like it. That's the thing. You are a part of the team. You don't have your PhD yet but the lab does rely on you for certain things.
Interview: read more >>
Researcher of the Month
Want to know about the anatomy of the retina? or to learn the Polish word for "antibody"? Ask Ewelina! She'll happily explain.But what she also can tell you about is how to adapt to new environments and quickly become a valued, beloved member of a community. She's done it all her life.
Born in Chrzanow, Poland, Ewelina spent most of her youth in Eastern Europe, with a stint in Long Island from 1994-1998. While she had a top-notch science education, the resources were limited for practical laboratory work. This made her experience as an 11th grader in the States, newly arrived to Lindenhurst HS, New York, all the more dramatic as she got the chance to do pretend by-pass surgery on a cow's heart! This hands-on experience, not insignificantly, first put the idea into her head that she might like to be a surgeon one day. Another transformative experience happened the following year, when she was introduced through an AP Bio course to university teaching laboratories run by LIGASE—and decided then and there to come to Stony Brook. From the start of her pre-freshman summer orientation at Stony Brook, Ewelina thrived in the EOP/AIM program environment whose caring counselors and direction under Cheryl Hamilton was always much appreciated: "I could not ask for a better councilor than Cheryl. Her dedication and commitment to her students really shines through her work. She's always there if I need her advice. And if there is a problem, we talk it out. "
As a freshman, Ewelina began volunteering in the Emergency Room at Stony Brook University Hospital, and also started participating in the Academic Associates program where she began doing clinical research under the guidance of Dr. Adam Singer. Ewelina also did a summer session (05) studying abroad in Middelesex University, London, focusing on history and the politics of the EU. In 2006, Ewelina was thrilled to be selected by EOP/AIM staff to attend, all expenses paid, Counseling and Treating People of Colour, a conference in the Dominican Republic hosted by Stony Brook (School of Medicine, School of Social Welfare, School of Health Technology & Management). Just recently, Ewelina attended the annual follow-up People of Colour conference, again co-sponsored by Stony Brook University— this time held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada!.
During sophomore year, Ewelina seized the opportunity to get more involved in laboratory research, with a happy placement in the research group of Dr. Stephen Yazulla in Neurobiology & Behavior.
She speaks highly of her mentor and her lab colleagues, and has spent many enjoyable hours in the lab from sophomore year to the present, including full time work during the summer of 2006.
In 2007, Ewelina earned a summer fellowship in the newly established Howard Hughes International Scholars program run by LIGASE, which introduced her to the incomparable Judy Nimmo and Dr. Bynum (LIGASE): "Every time you walk into that office, if you have a question, you just sit down and Dr. Bynum and Judy Nimmo drop what they're doing and make the time to talk to you. …You can tell that they love what they do and really want to seek out the best undergraduates out there . . . This is a great program! I never thought I’d get to go to Poland!" Through this premier HHMI program, Ewelina got the chance to return to Poland to work with Howard Hughes International Research Scholar, Dr. Marta Miaczynska, and post-doc Dr. Iwona Pilecka at the Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology located in the beautiful city of Warsaw. And Ewelina, yet again, had incredible research mentors!
Ewelina also took the time to volunteer at a hospital in Warsaw that summer, and is as determined as ever to pursue a medical degree following graduation from Stony Brook. Below are some excerpts shared from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director .
Karen: You're one of the first SBU undergrads to participate in the new Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Summer program.
Ewelina: I ended up in the lab of Dr. Marta Miaczynska in Poland which studies the relationship between intracellular membrane transport and signal transduction. The lab is located in the International Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the capital city, Warsaw. When I went there, I was kind of nervous. But from the first day, everybody was so nice. There was no "Mr" or "Mrs" It wasn't "Dr." It was just Marta. It was just a very homey atmosphere and everyone was very friendly and welcoming. It was a 10 week program. Housing was provided; the flight was taken care of for us. I lived in a nice dorm, one of the Warsaw University dormitories.
Any language barrier?
Luckily I'm fluent in Polish. But even if I hadn't been, everyone spoke English. In the lab, they enjoyed practicing English with me but I also tried to speak as much as I could in Polish. It was interesting to learn even the Polish word for "antibody" because I didn't know it before; I didn't have a use for it. But we spoke in English in lab meetings. The lab publishes in English.
Did you have a good experience abroad?
I had a wonderful experience, it was so much fun! It was really great going to work every day. It didn't even seem like work! And I didn't get expect to get this close to these people when I first arrived in Poland. But from the very beginning, the entire lab was very welcoming. They really care about the people who come into the lab.
The Institute also happened to be on the same street as Warsaw Medical Academy and its hospital. I made my way over there one day and asked if I could volunteer. I was even given permission to come in and observe operations. I did come in a few Saturdays and helped out in the ER. It was great to get a perspective on medical practices in another country.
Towards the end of my stay, the members of the lab took me out for a goodbye dinner. We went to the famous Mokotow fields, an area in Warsaw—kind of like Central Park. I love New York City, but I grew up in Poland , and I miss Europe. There’s something about the history and old architecture. . .
They all knew I want to be a surgeon one day. So on my last day in lab, I received a gift from everyone in the lab, a reproduction of The Anatomy Lesson (1632) by Rembrandt. It is not your average reproduction. It has my face photoshopped over the surgeon’s, and everybody else’s from the lab onto the onlookers of the lesson. The picture is framed and everyone signed their names around it. It’s hanging now on my doorroom wall and will without a doubt be hanging in my medical office in the future. It’s a great memory! And I want to give special recognition to Anna Hupalowska who worked so hard on this! The fact that somebody sat there for x amount of hours and put all of that work into it is beyond what I could have expected!
When you were working there in a lab over the summer, were the techniques new to you?
Except for the use of the microscope, everything was different! I had gained my research experience here at Stony Brook working with dead tissue mounted onto slides, and doing staining with antibodies, etc. But there I was dealing with live cell culture. I remembered taking Genetics, and learning then about western blot techniques and all that. But honestly, in a lecture class when you sit there and learn about procedures, you don't understand it in the same way as when you're doing them on your own. There in the lab, it was so interesting to be able to use these techniques, to see it firsthand.
Tell me about the lab in Stony Brook where you got started. What lab do you work with here on campus?
I'm in the Yazulla lab in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior in Life Sciences. I took a class with Dr. Yazulla in sophomore year--Cell Brain and Mind, Bio 208. Dr. Yazulla was so enthusiastic about research, together with the other professor teaching the class, Dr. Gail Mandel. They'd encouraged us as undergrads to come and talk to them about doing research. Dr. Yazulla dedicated a whole lecture to research on campus and what you could do to get involved. So during one of his office hours, I came in. I had read up on his research. That was at the end of the fall semester. By the first week of spring, I was working in his lab. I was the first sophomore in the lab. And I was very happy!
Was it hard to get up the nerve to go to office hours, to ask about research opportunities?
It's funny. When I first came in, I asked something else about the lecture and then I thought, "should I ask?" It is intimidating until you get to that level where the professor knows you just to go into office hours. The whole time that Prof. Yazulla was explaining about Alzheimers and answering my question, I kept thinking, in the back of my mind, should I ask? should I not? We actually joke about it now.
What do you like about the lab environment?
I've always had this misconception before, that people working in a lab have no life, never see their families, etc. And I would have graduated college thinking the same thing if I hadn't stepped foot into a lab. By now, I've met a lot of scientists. And I've learned that yes, research is time consuming, but the people doing it have a lot of other things going on. They have many different interests - and are very human!
From the start, I was there everyday doing things in the lab. The atmosphere is so much fun. The people in the lab, they're people I look up to. It's so fun to sit around and be around them. We sit together, and eat lunch. I learn so many random things about the world. Also, Dr Yazulla and I have the same sense of humor, Polish jokes and all!
Is difficult for you balancing a pre-med academic track with doing research? Is it too much?
I don't know about most premeds. In my case, I've enjoyed it. It's just become part of my routine. I schedule my day around it. I don't think it's too much. There's a lot of time as a student that you're just walking around campus when you could be spending time furthering your knowledge. It's good to step outside, experience a different environment.
What in your opinion makes for a good research scientist?
I could just show you pictures right now— of Dr. Yazulla, Dr. Pilecka, Dr. Marta Miaczynska. . . These scientists were all very understanding and helpful. And they allowed the undergrads to get involved from the start. In my case, I was doing things in lab and had a pipette in my hand from the first day. That's what made my experience great, that I was able to get involved from day one.
From the very beginning, I was at the microscope, looking at the slides. I was involved in pipetting reaction mixtures. I don't know if I was just lucky that both labs were like this. But getting hands-on exposure is really valuable. Also, in both cases, I was very fortunate to be able to form good relationships with my mentors. It could be discouraging if you think nobody cares about you or won't tolerate questions or that you are just getting in people's way. But I can honestly say that I never felt this way. It was always assumed that I could ask questions and my mentors and lab colleagues would take the time to explain what I did not understand. I hope everyone gets to have an experience like this! I feel I was very fortunate with my research experiences. A good relationship with your mentor is key. With both research experiences, I was able to become friends with the people in the lab. You want to go back to lab, you want to be there with your lab colleagues. And the sooner you get involved, I think....the more time you have to become close to your mentor and to everyone else in your lab.
Has it helped you with your classes, having these hands-on research experiences?
Organic chemistry lab was much easier! Doing undergrad research also taught me seriousness about lab. I remember that when I took high school lab classes, you think it doesn't matter if the pH is a little off. But once you're doing research in the lab, you feel the responsibility that you have to get it right, that being careful is crucial. I was able to learn the seriousness I took in Dr. Yazulla's research lab and put into other classes to help me succeed and get a better lab grade. Also, doing research gives you the opportunity to know a professor. You have somebody to look up to. It gives you hope that you can too be there one day. I really feel that being in research, having that one on one relationship on a daily basis really helps you stayed focused on your main goals. It gives you the opportunity to see that you too can bring yourself there.
It sounds like you have a strong commitment to your lab.
I like having that responsibility, I do. It is responsibility. And yes, you can't just call in, and say I can't come in today, I don't feel like it. That's the thing. You are a part of the team. You don't have your PhD yet but the lab does rely on you for certain things. I felt responsibility to Sara, for example, the grad student I was working with, helping to collect data for her project.
When did you decide you wanted to go to medical school? How is research helping you achieve your goals?
I didn't know I wanted to be a doctor till I moved to the States. In Poland, there's no money to have the bio classes we have here. There are no labs, there's no practical side. When I came to the United States, it was in 11th grade. In the first lab class I had, we were cutting cow hearts and doing a pretend by-pass surgery. I enjoyed the scalpel in my hand. That really sparked my interest. That and the combination of doing well in the class made me believe in myself that maybe I can do it. I continued to think about a medical career when I started at Stony Brook. And then I started volunteering at the Emergency Room at the Hospital in freshman year. I'm also involved in the Academic Associates program in the Emergency Room, where students collect data for patients for research studies going on in the hospital. We work with Dr. Singer. There's a number of studies that we help with — doing surveys, collecting data. Getting the experience here at Stony Brook, being in the Emergency Room, seeing that the patients really do appreciate the help they receive, has made a big impression on me, and solidified how I do want to become a physician.
What first brought you to Stony Brook?
The reason I decided to go to Stony Brook was because of my high school AP Bio class; they had a few lab sections at Stony Brook, through LIGASE. We did a couple of experiments here, including gel electrophoresis. That was fun. I still smile when I pass by the lab in Life Sciences by the LIGASE office. I was here 4 years ago. And I really liked the school. That made me see Stony Brook and like the campus. That's why I decided to come here.
And LIGASE turned out to be the same program that sponsored this fantastic HHMI International program . . .
Yes--it was! When I was walking in the library, I saw a LIGASE poster about the new Howard Hughes International Program and I went to talk to them right away. Judy was kind enough to set aside what she was doing and explain the details of the program. And this is what happens every time I walk into that office. Judy and Dr. Bynum are both very busy. Yet every time you walk into that office, if you have a question, you just sit down and Dr. Bynum and Judy Nimmo drop what they're doing and make the time to talk to you. . . You can tell that they love what they do and really want to seek out the best undergraduates out there . . . This is a great program! I never thought I’d get to go to Poland!
Sounds like Stony Brook has been good for you!
Stony Brook is one big plate of opportunities! I'm an EOP student, and being part of EOP has been instrumental to my success! I remember the orientation we had before freshman year. They had a panel of current EOP students who were there to share their experiences at Stony Brook. They did this, this and that. I'm sitting there listening to all these incredible things, thinking, I could never do that. Well...last spring, I found myself on that stage, talking about everything that I've accomplished as an undergrad. When I mentioned that this summer, I'd be going to Europe to work in a research lab, and saw their faces looking at me....it was amazing. Here I'm the one giving the speech 3 years later!
What advice do you have for freshman? What would you say about research opportunities here?
The stereotypical: "Get involved!" Stony Brook is a research university. The rankings go higher and higher each year. And it's kind of a waste if you're here and associated with all the research here and you're not taking part in it! It feels so great to be able to say, I've contributed to that, I'm part of the research. And I think that students should get involved as soon as they can. Because the sooner you get involved, the broader your project can become. The sooner you get involved, the less time you're thinking "OMG, I won't get into a lab." I should have probably stepped foot into the lab when I was a freshman. A lot of people think freshmen never get in. It's some myth going around. A lot of students think, I don't have any experience. But that's where you gain your experience. In my case, I not going to lie: initially part of my motivation, part of the attraction of doing research was that it would look good on my resume. But I have really grown to love it! That's why I still continue doing research, being involved. I love the experience and would not trade it for anything!