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Researcher of the Month

December 2016

Jakub MickoJakub Micko 

Biology, Clinical Laboratory Science majors; minor in Writing; University Scholars Program, Class of 2017

Research Mentors: 
Dr. Joshua Rest - Ecology & Evolution; Dr. Gloria Viboud - Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology; Dr. Robert Kaplan - Program in Writing & Rhetoric 

 “Doing research is the opposite of monotony,” explains Jakub Micko. “There’s not a day you come in where you can predict exactly what will happen.”

A participant in the University Scholars Program, Jakub will be graduating in May 2017 with a double major in Biology and Clinical Laboratory Sciences, and a minor in Writing & Rhetoric. The ability to be curious, ask questions, and be open to new experiences has certainly been an asset for Jakub, as an undergraduate researcher and student. Following up on an interest in bioinformatics led Jakub to his current research position in the laboratory of Dr. Joshua Rest, where he has enjoyed being involved doing undergraduate research for nearly two years. Currently, Jakub is working to build a cDNA library of S. cerevisiae (yeast) in various growth environments to explore its transcriptome as well as analyze gene content variation and copy number variance.

The accumulated lab techniques and skills he acquired in the Rest laboratory (from doing PCR, qPCR, DNA extraction, cDNA library synthesis and getting experience with the Nanodrop, Qubit, and quality control) has also made him a great fit for the Clinical Laboratory Sciences program, a program he joined in 2015 and for which he is currently completing a group research project on a technique to prevent antibiotic resistance in certain organisms under the direction of Dr. Gloria Viboud.

Jakub has also been engaged in an independent research project under the mentorship of Dr. Robert Kaplan (Program in Writing & Rhetoric), involving the comparison of writing programs at AAU universities. Describing his involvement in the Writing program, Jakub reflects: “That is one of the best things I’ve done. …I took the writing 102 class in college (a subject I had little love for in high school) and it was so enjoyable that it inspired me to continue taking upper level writing courses, many of which are geared for people in the health field like me.”

At SB, Jakub has served as a Teaching Assistant for Organic Chemistry, and as an Orientation Leader and Residential Assistant; and has been an active member of the Pre-Med Society. He has also volunteered for Alternative Spring Break Outreach in Nashville Tennessee (2016), and at an orphanage in Phnom Penh Cambodia (Summer 2015). Since 2014, Jakub has also been employed as an assistant in the Department of Urology at Stony Brook Hospital, and shadowed at an outpatient Urology Clinic. Jakub graduated from Glen Cove HS, and is a first generation college student. He is trilingual (Czech, conversational Spanish, and English) and enjoys hobbies from board games to archery. Below are excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.  

The Interview:

Karen: Tell me about your current research at SB.
Jakub. In the Rest laboratory, I’m looking at the transcriptome of yeast cells that were grown in various different environments to figure out some questions we have about copy number variance, and how that ultimately affects fitness and evolution. To do that, we’re making a cDNA library.  I really love working with the lab. It was the first research group I got involved with. Chris Morales, the post doc I’ve worked with, and Dr. Rest (my professor) are really good at helping me understand things by answering all of my questions and in turn asking me questions. It’s made me feel so much more confident talking about science. Lab meetings are particularly interesting. Two years ago, I would say: “What does that even mean?...” while people were discussing things. Now I can follow along and actually feel like I’m contributing. It’s empowering to see my own growth within the lab.
I’m also doing an independent research project in writing with Dr. Robert Kaplan. And for the CLS program, I’m working on a group research project under Dr. Gloria Viboud about antibiotic resistance. We have a group of 4 students.  

How did you first find out about the Rest lab?
I took a class in bioinformatics that that had a really fascinating course description. It turned out to be accurate, and I would always go to office hours to ask questions.
And when it came time to hand in the final, my professor asked if I’d be interested in doing research because he was looking for a lab assistant. I was actually looking for research at the time, so I said yes right away. And it worked out really well. That was in January 2015 that I joined.

When you first joined the lab, did you have previous experience?|
I was familiar with the theory of a lot of techniques from the coursework and the intro labs. The classes do a good job of explaining PCR, and electrophoresis. So I had the background to get started, though I definitely needed someone looking over me when I was first started. The post doc, Chris, and Kash, the research support specialist, were both really helpful. Anytime I had a technical question, they’d be able to answer it thoroughly.  

What was one of the most surprising you’ve found about doing research?
There are so many new things that are amazing to me – like machine learning, or CRISPR, and really just cutting edge innovations that you might not learn about in your classes where the focus is on teaching you the basics. The lab meetings are great because the professor understands that some of us are new and so he would take the time to explain things like that to us. Everyone in the lab is really easy to approach. I’m really thankful for that. I’m able to ask the questions I want. At lab meetings, we all talk and communicate about our different projects so I’ve become more experienced with what the others are doing as well.

Has doing research helped you with your classes?
Yes, especially for Clinical Lab Sciences. It’s definitely helped me technique-wise, with basic pipetting, and sterile techniques, the basics.  Some of the quality control work I’ve done in the Rest lab also fits perfectly with CLS as a major and career. And even with theory, I’d say that the whole basis of doing laboratory research at heart is about asking questions and trying to solve them. And in my classes, I feel like I can do that even better now. If I have a question, I know how to read and interpret scholarly articles better. It’s kind of empowered me to be able to answer my own questions more so than if I hadn’t been in research.

What are your future plans?
I feel like I want to get out and work for a couple years. With the CLS major, I think that I’ll be able to get a job after graduation in a medical laboratory, and then decide what other things I’d like to pursue.  Currently I’m leaning towards studying pathology.

What do you most like about research?
There are so many things I like. Doing research is the opposite of monotony. There’s not a day you come in where you can predict exactly what will happen. Of course anyone in research will understand the need for replications within experiments, but if you step back and look at the big picture, those replications become less tedious and more exciting. Because yes you expect this to happen… but what if it doesn’t? You’re doing something and you have these questions … And I love that aspect of research where you ask one question at the start and you can come up with a totally different one at the end.  
I also like that you are always dealing with obstacles. That’s kind of what makes it fun, if you can surpass them. Even in the midst of running into problems, you need to be able to step back and realize that there are multiple ways around every problem, and figuring them out requires creativity.  The challenge to stay creative and constantly challenge your beliefs is what motivates me to keep going, and keeps research fresh.

What advice about research would you have for beginning undergraduates?
It’s important to get a good fit into the right lab that is doing things that will keep you curious, because I believe research can appeal to anyone. You just have to find the right field. In order to do that, the best quality that you can create or foster in yourself is to be curious. That’s the heart of what research really is. When you’re in class, pay attention to your inner dialogue and be hyper-alert to what topics make you start wondering and cause you to ask how does this happen, and why. That’s when you go to office hours, to get those questions answered. And I think if you have an affinity for a topic because of your curiosity, you’ll be able to get research by emailing professors, going to office hours, and flat out asking if they have room in their lab. You need to be really receptive to what you’re gravitating towards in class, what makes you ask questions. That’s ultimately what will lead to your success.