Senior Camron Myers wasn’t lifeguarding over the summer. He wasn’t mowing lawns. He wasn’t washing cars. He was capturing images of fat cells. He was studying rats. He was creating polyacrylamide gel.
Myers interned in a laboratory at KU Medical Center, researching the effect of diet and exercise on type two diabetes. He spent two months over the summer working a nine-to-five job.
The opportunity to work in the lab came from a mutual friend. His friend’s father gave Camron’s name to Dr. Paige Geiger, head of the laboratory. Myers and Geiger spoke through email and the two set up an interview.
Myers discussed the internship with Geiger in her office, a view of the red brick building visible through the window. She answered his questions about necessary degrees for a research career and how commonly research jobs are available.
Lucky for Myers, Geiger told him he would be part of her researching team. His mutual friend and grades had made the application process simple.
“In general, if a student has a positive attitude, curiosity, and a willingness to work together as a team,” Geiger said. “That makes him/her a good fit for my lab.”
But acceptance into Geiger’s program was only one step in the process.
The second step Myers took was through the door on his first day. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach as he walked into the lab. Refrigerators and freezers surrounded the entrance. Black countertops and shelves filled with pipettes, plastic bags, and solution ingredients occupied the center of the room. Computers lined the far wall, facing a window.
Everything about this environment was new to Myers.
“I was nervous because I didn’t know much about [being in a research lab],” Myers said. “But I read the research and [the other researchers] were totally open about [my being there] because they were ignorant, too, when they started.”
His level of responsibility started off small. He began by making substances like gel used to separate proteins based on size. But once Myers proved his abilities, the researchers began to give him more challenging tasks.
Some days he was creating western blots, putting rat muscle tissue into gel that separates proteins, in order to test if certain proteins were involved in diabetic functions. Other days he was creating solutions called buffers that balanced pH levels in substances.
In the beginning, Myers felt uneasy. He didn’t want to tear a piece of specialized protein paper, or incorrectly pipette expensive antibodies.
“I was nervous because they were expensive and if I failed to do it correctly it would throw the results of the experiments off,” Myers said. “I became more comfortable with things over time, though.”
Like Myers, Senior Bethany Snyder spent her summer working in a lab. Coincidentally, it was the lab next to Myers. She, too, found her level of comfort increase with time and practice.
She became a breeder, personal trainer and brain surgeon of rats throughout her time studying ALS and jaundice. Snyder, like Myers, was surprised by how quickly she was able to adapt to some of the more difficult jobs she was given.
“The first time I euthanized a rat and took its brain I was hyperaware of what I was doing the whole time and how much blood there was,” Snyder said. “By the time I was done with the internship I had euthanized so many rats and handled their brains that I was no longer distressed by it.”
Whether it was Camron pipetting antibodies or Bethany handling brains, each step of research needed to be carried out with complete accuracy. Money, time, and countless hours of effort were on the line. Making an error would invalidate a month’s work.
And the work was not only stressful, it was dangerous.
Myers worked with a fine powder called sodium dodecyl sulfate, or SDS. It is such a fine substance that if you inhale it for more than a couple of minutes, it can result in permanent asthma.
“In terms of health hazards the worst was probably SDS. If you get a breath of it, it hurts so badly,” Myers said. “I inhaled it a couple times. It hurts your eyes too.”
But despite those health hazards (and a few wasted micrograms of antibodies), the experience was a pleasant one for Myers.
Although he was doing detailed oriented tasks, it wasn’t all work and no play. His coworkers, like laboratory manager Josh Wheatley and masters student Bob Rogers, managed to lighten the load.
“[Josh] had a really dirty sense of humor so he would just say horrible jokes throughout the day,” Myers said. “And [Bob] was working on his dissertation so he was really stressed. The whole time he was there he was in a bad mood or joking around about it.”
Not only did he have fun, he did well. Camron did a wonderful job according to Dr. Geiger. Every one of his colleagues hoped he would return next summer.
“Camron asked good questions, made a sincere effort to learn, and quickly became a reliable member of our team,” Geiger said. “It doesn’t get any better than that!”
Despite his unusual summer job, Myers is still like any other high school kid. He took the job to have a new experience and expose himself to different career options. He plans on using his time working in the lab as inspiration for his college application essays. His lab adventure inspired the addition of AP Bio 2 to his senior year schedule.