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Researcher of the Month
Biochemistry, Applied Mathematics & Statistics majors, WISE, Class of 2013
Research Mentors: Dr. Harvard Lyman, Biochemistry & Cell Biology; Dr. Howard Sirotkin, Neurobiology & Behavior; Dr. Ralph James, Brookhaven National Laboratory
The benefits of an immersive summer research experience are not lost on Malack Hamade, a WISEstudent (class of 2013), double majoring in Biochemistry and Applied Mathematics & Statistics. Plant biology has been her main focus since freshman year while she’s investigated “Photoregulation of Chloroplast Synthesis in E. Gracilis” under the mentorship of Dr. Harvard Lyman(Biochemistry & Cell Biology). Yet to broaden her experience, knowledge and perspective in diverse areas of science—Malack has explored summer internships and found that these experiences have significantly helped shape and re-define her plans for future graduate study. In summer 2011, Malack participated in the SULI program at Brookhaven National Laboratory, doing an internship with Dr. Ralph James (BNL-Nonproliferation and National Security Department) on “A Novel two-step Annealing method aimed at restoring resistivity and function in CdZnTe crystals.” This summer, Malack is engaged in "Neural studies of REST zebrafish using Histological Techniques" as aStem Cell Fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Howard Sirokin (Neurobiology and Behavior), the faculty director of the CESAME Summer Stem Cell Research program funded by NYSTEM (now in its second year).
In addition to being very enthusiastic about the benefits of summer programs, Malack is also very passionate about mentoring—having herself been the beneficiary of a WISE mentor during freshman year. In spring 2011, she became active in founding “Older Siblings on Campus”, a program aiming to match entering students — campus-wide— with older students based on research /disciplinary interests: “I want to help them the same way someone helped me.” Malack is also involved with Young Investigators Review as a content editor and staff writer: “I really love writing, and I love science, and it incorporates the two. I can read about all these fields and edit articles to make them more accessible. …..I really like that.” Malack is a member of Golden Key, National Society of College Scholars and Sigma Beta honor societies; has held the post of Treasurer for the WISE Leadership Council (2010-2011); and has served as a Teaching Assistant for Organic Chemistry and Genetics classes. In winter break of 2010, Malack completed a rotation at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center which gave her exposure to nuclear physics technology. She currently plans to pursue MD/PhD programs in either Medical Physics or Pediatric Oncology. Below are excerpts of Malack's interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your current summer research.
Malack: I’m working with Prof. Howard Sirotkin, through the Summer Undergraduate Stem Cell Program (CESAME). We work on this transcriptional regulator called REST which basically suppresses neuronal genes in non neuronal tissues. We’re working on elucidating that, and getting a better understanding about what that entails. Not too much is known about the REST gene. I’m working on seizures in particular. . . Initially I didn’t realize how competitive the program was—and how it brings in students from all over the country. It was a really great honor to be selected. I am really excited to be part of it.
Is the research you’re doing now very different than the research you’d previously
been involved with?
Up until now, I’ve done a lot of plant biology. I’ve been in Dr. Lyman’s lab since my freshman year. I also did a rotation in a medical imaging lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering in my freshman year during the winter. So going to stem cell research is really different—especially when it comes to the techniques we use. But everyone in the Sirotkin lab has been so helpful and has really helped me transition to the new work. I'm really enjoying this summer research experience.
You mentioned that you started doing research in your freshman year. How did you find
your initial research placement?
I did a rotation through WISE in which I met Dr. Lyman and he introduced me to biochemistry and chloroplasts. We work on a chlorophyll pathway that isn’t really well elucidated. .. I enjoy the research a lot! Prof. Lyman is very charismatic, and is great to work with. He gives us a lot of autonomy which is important. Figuring out what’s going on, writing your own projects, you learn so much. It’s really exciting, stepping into unchartered territory. I really like that. I plan to continue in Dr. Lyman’s lab and probably do a senior honors thesis with him.
I also had the opportunity to work in a physics lab last summer. That was also quite different than previous work I'd done …but it was really awesome! I worked on semiconducting room temperature crystals, with Cadmium Zinc Telluride (CST) which shows promise in replacing geranium and silicone (both of which require cryogenic cooling for proper functionality ) for use in detection technology. That research experience, and the exposure to technology, was so valuable to me. It gave me a different perspective on the different fields of research out there …and an appreciation of the different types of work.
You are making good use of your summers!
I’m glad to have been exposed to different areas of science. My experience over the summer also influenced me in that I’m now seriously considering medical physics for graduate school … I will say this about myself: I’m not afraid to try new things. I’m really glad I did different things and different internships. Summer research is very intensive for a short period of time. But because it’s so very intensive, I think it’s a really good way to get exposure to different fields.
How has being involved in research augmented your education?
It has really helped with developing my analytical skills. Usually when you sit in class, you start by accepting everything the teacher tells you without really questioning it. Then when you start doing research, you look at things through a more critical lens. So the research teaches you to examine why does this work, what does the evidence show that lends support to that finding…….and learning becomes less passive, more active. When you’re in a class, you learn about all these things from Powerpoint slides initially. And then you go to the lab and actually have to do the experiments: I remember the first time I ran a PCR I forgot to ice everything properly and it didn’t go well. But then you realize why it happened…and you really learn what you’ve been studying in class.
I took Genetics which I really liked, and ended up TAing the class last spring. Now this summer, going into Dr. Sirotkin’s lab and doing lab work in Genetics, it’s really really interesting to see how things play out in real life.
Have you had any presentation experiences?
I participated in the URECA poster symposium twice. The first presentation I did was through URECA. During the summer at Brookhaven, they asked me to present in front of a lot of people. And that turned out to be a good experience too. It definitely taught me a lot about public speaking, learning to present myself and my research. Also, it taught me how to take critical feedback, and make myself better because of it. Just last week I gave a presentation for the Stem Cell group too.
I think that with these programs, you really benefit in terms of your presentation skills. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it before. I would have been scared …but now, I’m more experienced at it. I like having opportunities to present my work.
What do you enjoy most about the research?
Going into unchartered territory. Not knowing what to expect but knowing you tried to make the best of it. Because as well written as a protocol can be, you don’t know what to expect. And that’s the best part – you don’t know.
What do you enjoy least about the research?
The best thing is also the most difficult thing. Because ... you don’t know what the results will be! And sometimes it’s frustrating—not knowing what you’re reaching for. But eventually when you do get it, it’s also really satisfying!
Have you been involved in mentoring?
One of the reasons I came to SB was because of WISE, because of the mentoring and the research opportunities it offers. Mentoring has been a really big part of my stay here at Stony Brook. I started as a WISE mentee – an upperclassman from WISE mentored me my freshman year, about 6 hours a week. It helped me get my grades together, and figure out what I wanted to do. It really also helped me in terms of my extracurriculars as well as academics. So I figured I could do that for someone too. I worked to create a group, Older Siblings on Campus — an all-inclusive mentoring organization on campus. From my field, I wanted to be able to take someone in and help them the same way someone helped me.
What advice do you have for new students?
Don’t be afraid to try new things! Take classes outside of what you think your interests are, try new things. Most importantly, you should never be afraid to talk to professors. They’re approachable, but it’s up to you to take that first step. So put your best foot forward, introduce yourself, and let them know you’re interested! After that, they really do take an interest in you and they really do take care of you!