Vanderbilt-Sewanee Research Experience (V-SURE) – Jackie Spangenberg, C'18

For me, this was a summer filled with “new”: a new place, a new experience, and a new story. My story begins in an auditorium filled with other pre-medical students with the same dreams as I. To be honest…I was scared. Luckily, my Sewanee friends were constantly encouraging to me put one foot in front of the other.

With a little push from Mark, a fellow Sewanee student, I made my way towards Dr. Jason Becker’s laboratory. My next eight weeks were spent with my eyes glued to a microscope, and I loved every second of it. I worked with a generated double transgenic line of zebrafish, essentially producing a line of zebrafish with a fluorescently visible heart. I was able to visually analyze the zebrafish heart development. With lots of practice, we established a suitable protocol for documenting the zebrafish hearts using a fluorescent dissecting microscope and digital imaging. In class, you’re given protocol that is known to work, but in reality, it’s the scientist’s responsibility to produce a suitable protocol. Thus, from working alongside real scientists, I was able to learn about the real medical world.  

From just an eight-week experience in a lab, I gained a valuable understanding of how a lab works. One very important lesson surfaced throughout my research: time flies.  It takes a very long time to accomplish small projects. Thus, I learned about true patience. I also noticed that discoveries in science are made due to collaboration with others: other members of the lab, other scientists and other animals. Needless to say, from learning simple lab protocols to how a lab works, I learned a lot in just my eight weeks at Vanderbilt.

I found the most significant memory from my experience to be the excitement from witnessing a project from start to finish. In class laboratory, everyone is doing the same project as you. It was an amazing experience to be responsible for a project of your own. That’s why I am very grateful to Sewanee: The University of the South and Vanderbilt University for establishing V-SURE. This program allowed me to gain a foundational understanding of the medical world - something I have been seeking to do throughout my career at Sewanee.