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UM Scholars: Week 2 & 3

Hello my lovely readers, today I wanted to update you all on my experience in the UM Scholars program. If you haven't read my first blog click here to read it, I talk about what the program is an my initial impressions to the program.

Since the last blog of my first week, I've been learning a lot and really enjoying the experience. Being at the UM School of Medicine has been an unbelievable experience! In this post I'll touch on some things I learned that I thought were really interesting and share a little more about what my research project is.



The UM Scholars program has lectures for us to attend every Tuesday and Thursday morning where they bring in distinguished physicians and researchers of various fields to speak to us. These lectures have been captivating and inspiring and have introduced me to various topics and fields in medicine. So far I have attended 5 lectures and they have been one of my favorite parts of each week. Here are some summaries of the lectures and I'll be linking some articles if you're interested in learning more about the research. :)

UM School of Medicine lecture room

The first seminar we had was from Dr. Sarah Murthi, a trauma surgeon who is integrating AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) technologies into the clinical world. She began her talk by explaining her journey to where she is now, and how she uses research to advance science and medicine and also how being a researcher allowed her to have more work life balance then being a full time trauma surgeon, which as we can imagine can be pretty demanding. So how did she use research in her field?

She does research at the Blended Reality Center at the UMSOM and brought in her technology for us to see and interact with. She showed us how AR could be used to incubate a patient by having the camera be right in your view point instead of looking away at a screen. She explained the benefits of using these technologies to increase patient-doctor interactions. She actually gave a TedxTalk about her research which was pretty similar to what she shared with us... I will share here if you're interested:


Our next talk was Dr. Tracy Bale, Ph.D who is the Director of the Center for Epigenetic Research in Child Health and Brain Development. She got her Ph.D in neurobiology and her research really captivated me. As soon as she started talking about the effects of stress on neurodevelopment of a fetus. She also has research on the placenta and how it is actually sex specific and that females are more protected against pre-natal insults such as maternal stress than males. This could be a reason why neurodevelopment disease risk is higher for males than females. Click here to read this article if you're interested in learning more.

Her work also discusses how paternal stress plays a role, and showed an interesting study where basically male participates gave their sperm and were in two groups: stressed and not stressed and you could see a clear and significant difference between the two groups. So her point was that a lot of times the emphasis is on mom and her maternal stress as she carries the baby, but her research has also emphasized the role of paternal stress as well. Click here for the article. If any of this sparked your interest I really recommend checking out her work, she is a nationally-recognized neuroscientist and has won many awards, it was definitely an honor to hear her speak.

It was super awesome that our first two speakers were women in science and medicine!


Next we heard from Dr. David Rasko who is faculty of the Institution of Genomic Science with a Ph.D in medical microbiology and immunology. Click here to see his profile which really shows his employment history and what it takes to rise up the ranks in academia. He has over 100 published peer-review articles! His lecture to use was focused on the microbiome, which refers to the micro-organisms within our bodies and how each each of us has a unique microbiome.

An example of looking at cladograms of microorganisms to understand the genomics, here is a phylogenomic tree looking at a species of Shigella from

He told us about one study they did where they looked at volunteers involved in a "challenge study" which is a study that involves infecting healthy participants with a disease to study the disease and the treatment. Sounds scary, I know, but they are actually a really important part of vaccine research and my lab does them with malaria mosquitos!

Anyways, in this study the participants were being infected with bacteria and the researchers were looking for signs of them developing diarrhea. Diarrhea is a major killer of children in underdeveloped countries and the Center of Vaccine Research and Global Health works on developing vaccines to protect children from these diseases.

Dr. Rasko was interested in how the microbiome of the participants might impact how they react to the bacteria. He looked at their microbiome before, during, and after the trails and found that although every participant was given the same pathogen, they had different results, some had no diarrhea symptoms at all. It was really cool to see how the microbiome changed and how diversity of the microorganism inside of us could help us stay healthy. This is a very interesting new field of research and I'm excited to see how our understanding of the role the microbiome plays in our health grows over time with more research.


Our forth seminar was by Dr. Arthur Nam, a nationally and internationally renowned plastic surgeon! He gave us an amazing lecture about his journey through medicine and how he is using 3D printing in his reconstructive surgeries. Again, I was so amazed at how these doctors were innovating their fields by integrating research into their careers.

He showed us some examples of cases where he used 3D printing technology to create "templates" that he then uses in surgery, such as the one above. He also showed us pictures from the surgeries which I thought was so cool to see, but I'm not attaching those photos here because I don't want to freak anyone out haha, but click here too see in one of his published articles. I'm excited to see how medical technology will keep evolving over time!

Overall, these seminars have been one of my favorite parts of each week! I've been introduced so many fields in medicine and learning about the current research. I really wanted to share what I've learned so I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about their research.

It's been such an honor to be in the presence of world-renowned doctors and to learn that how their journeys started. This summer experience has made me feel sure that I want to be a physician-scientist, not only do I want to treat patients but I want to conduct clinical research and impact many patients! This has been such an inspiring experience!


My Project Update

I wanted to give you all an update on my project as well. I've been really enjoying the research experience thus far. My tentative research tittle is "Determining Vaccine Targets for Placental Malaria by Examination of Plasmodium Falciparum Variant Surface Antigens". A bit if a mouthful, but basically I am trying to identify an antigen that can be a target for placental malaria vaccine development.

I'm working with Dr. Travassos, a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist and malaria researcher at the Center of Vaccine Development and Global Health. My lab is the Malaria Research Lab, and I've been learning from the many staff, faculty, and graduate students who work alongside me. They've been introducing me to genomics, human genetics, epidemiology, public health, basic science skills, and more!

My desk view

I'm doing clinical research which involved analyzing data on my laptop. I've learned how to do statistical tests on Excel and R. When I'm not working on my data analysis, I've been sitting in on various lab meetings or Infectious Disease meetings with my mentor. I always take my little notebook with me and write down notes, such as names of disease, symptoms, and tests. I like to see how the doctors discuss cases and work together to come up with a diagnosis.

Be sure to follow my instagram for daily outfit details! Students in my lab actually dress casually, but when shadowing doctors it's important to dress professionally. Since I go in-between working in lab and shadowing my mentor, I try to dress business casual throughout the week. It's been fun putting together new outfits for work each day.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine is a beautiful campus and a very collaborative and welcoming community. I'm learning something new everyday, I'm making connections, and I'm learning about the field that I want to go into. I hope you guys enjoyed reading a bit about my experience and let me know if you have any questions that I can address in the next blog post!




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