After a long, adventurous journey to Washington, D.C. and some much-needed hours of sleep, we awoke Friday morning ready for the exciting day ahead! We took a short metro ride over to Medical Center where both the NIH and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are located. At the Visitor Center we were greeted by our tour coordinators for the day, Tara Mowery and Carla Alvarez.
They first took us to the National Library of Medicine for an overview on the 27 different Institutes situated on the NIH campus. Tara then took us on a tour of the library, which has so many books that if we were to lay them out side-by-side, they would extend to over 50 miles! The library is home to some of the earliest known medical books that date back hundreds of years, such as an Asian manuscript depicting how herbal concoctions were used as anesthetics to remove tumors. There was a ton of amazing artifacts and resources to see that we could’ve spent the whole day in the library alone! We were shown where the servers housing all of the databases (such as PubMed) for the National Center for Biotechnology Information are kept. We were able to see the body of a Texas man who was given the death sentence and decided to donate his body. His body was frozen and sliced into minute coronal plane sections, essentially creating a book of the human body. Tara then took us to tour the Native Voices exhibit which explored what health, medicine, and recovery meant to different Native American groups and the ways in which health was intertwined in everyday life. We had lunch with a few post-bac researchers who were spending 1 or 2 years working at the NIH. The lunch helped give a few of us, especially me, some idea of possible avenues to pursue after finishing Yale. Since the post-bacs were only a few years older than we were, it was nice to meet individuals who had just been in our shoes and ask them for advice.
Our next stop was the NIH Clinical Center, which is both an enormous hospital and spectacular research facility in one. Patients receive the best medical care in the world at absolutely no cost. Laboratories are literally located down the halls from the patient quarters, so that physicians can work closely with the patient and monitor their progress. We visited two labs, Dr. Maria De La Luz Sierra and Dr. Ofelia Olivero’s labs, where they told us about their backgrounds and how they came to work at the NIH. Dr. Sierra is Mexican-American and grew up in Texas, and had originally only meant to stay at the NIH for a few years; however she loved her work so much that she decided to stay and has been working at the NIH for over 20 years working in the Section on Edocrinology and Genetics. She gave us a tour of her lab where she worked with Dr. Constantine Stratakis, as PCR machines whirred and flow cytometers buzzed away. Dr. Sierra was very welcoming and answered every single one of our questions with care and enthusiasm! Dr. Olivero grew up in Argentina and came to work at the NIH as a post-doc and was one of the first to discover that the earliest medications given for AIDS therapy proved to be highly carcinogenic in mice. She is currently continuing her research in Transplacental Carcinogenesis and also allowed us to take a tour around her lab. Both Dr. Sierra and Dr. Olivero were huge inspirations and gave us pep-talks and encouragement to follow whatever field our little hearts desired. What struck me the most however was how much fun they seemed to be having! They spoke about their work with such contagious enthusiasm and passion that it was hard not to smile; they were living their dream! In that instant I was ready to grab a pipette and start looking under microscopes with them!
After stopping for a much needed cappuccino break, the last leg of our tour was a visit at the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education with Dr. Natasha Lugo-Escobar and Dr. Erika Barr who told us about summer research opportunities and the paid (yay, money!) Post Baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award which allows for either 1 or 2 years of post-bac research opportunities. We had such a spectacular day that as we walked out of the NIH gates it really felt like we had just left science Disneyland. The research facilities, the libraries, and laboratories were all phenomenal, but what made it extra special was the people we had met. Everyone was more than overjoyed to be working at the NIH; it was unbelievable! Tired and sleep-deprived, we then ventured off into DC to visit some national monuments and eat some delicious tacos (mmm, District Tacos)!
Post by Cynthia Campos, JE’16, MAS Vice-President