Anh-Thu Ngoc Lam ‘11
Research Technician, Department of Genetics and Genomics
Christopher A. Walsh Laboratory, Center for Life Science, Boston Children’s Hospital
Major: Biochemistry and Spanish, Honors College
Graduate Program: Human Genetics & Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (Fall 2014)
How would you describe what you do on a typical day?
Apart from a handful of basic technical duties that I am in charged of in the lab, I work closely with MD and PhD Post-Doctoral fellows to develop their research projects. I am part of a team whose goals are to discover genetic mutations involved in various brain malformation diseases in humans. Our goal is to uncover the genes involved in brain development and to better understand how these genes regulate brain functions.
By studying individuals affected with these conditions, we are able to identify the associated genes and their mutations. From that information, we can try to understand how those genes affect various biological processes in regards to brain development. We use MRI to help us see and confirm the structural abnormalities and guide us to a better understanding of the site of action and the function of the gene(s) involved. We hope that this will lead to better options for diagnosis, management and treatment for affected individuals and their families.
What advice do you have for students searching for jobs or internships in your field?
Get yourself involved in research early on in your undergraduate careers by taking the initiative. Speak to your professors about internships, summer research opportunities, and available science grants that you could apply to. Gaining research experience will benefit a lot when it is time to job search or go on to graduate studies.
Find a good adviser who will nurture you academic and scientific growth. There are two UVM professors that I must thank for their continuous support and guidance from when I first started at UVM, to entering the work force, and even till today as I prepare to transition into my PhD education. The first is professor is Dr. Bryan Ballif of the Department of Biology who accepted me into his lab even with no prior research experience. He personally taught me lab techniques and was also part of my thesis committee. The other professor is Dr. Carmen Pont who taught some of my Spanish and French classes. They both have been my perpetual guides as I attempted to navigate my myriad of academic interests, encouraging me to pursue what excites me most, to follow through with what I am passionate about. People, especial mentors, are the most valuable resources! Network and build connections everywhere you go and with everyone that you meet!
How did your time at UVM, both in and out of the classroom, prepare you for your position? My time at UVM was transformative. UVM opened my eyes to many educational possibilities. As a dual degree student, I had access to a balanced exposure of both arts and sciences through two well-established departments: Biochemistry and Romance Languages and Linguistics. I was able to take classes with faculty and classmates who represented a rich spectrum, from top scholars and researchers to passionate and enthusiastic students. Through the Honors College, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with a very dynamic group of scientists early on and by defending an Honors Thesis, I learned to effectively and successfully communicate my research not only to specialists, but also to nonscientists by modifying my explanations according to my audience.
Outside of academics, I was part of the UVM Taekwondo Club and MEDLIFE, which I still continue to be a part of long after graduating. I was also a part of the choir at the UVM Catholic Center and volunteered at the Fletcher Allen Hospital Pediatric ward right on campus.
UVM provided me with an environment to meet people from different backgrounds, all with something to teach me. I am grateful for the quality education that I have received at UVM and will continue to build on the solid foundation wherever life takes me.
What is your favorite part of your work? Most challenging part?
During my time as a research technician at Boston Children’s Hospital, I have seen the excitement of searching for new knowledge and have learned the pivotal role science plays in the advancement of medicine. Though I have faced many frustrations and numerous failures at the bench side, it is with determination and persistence through the frustrations and failures and seeing a project through its entirety balanced with the implications of the results that truly make the dedication rewarding. Knowing that I play an integral role in the research that is being done and seeing the results help improve clinical care are some of the reasons why I love my job. I am grateful to be in such a rewarding field with opportunities for continual growth and advancement in the future.
What was your childhood dream job?
My childhood dream job was and still is to become a physician scientist. I am tackling my dream one step at a time and hope to be able to accomplish it one day!