LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 24, 2017) — Angela Wei, an agricultural and medical biotechnology and mathematics senior from Lexington, was one of five students across the country selected to participate in the 2017 Dartmouth MD/PhD Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Program.
Started in 2012, the Dartmouth MD-PhD Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Program is an initiative aimed at exposing undergraduates, especially members of historically underrepresented ethnic minorities in medical science, to the vibrant career pathway of the physician-scientist.
During the 10-week fellowship, running from mid-June until mid-August, fellows were exposed to basic medical science research working alongside one of Dartmouth’s MD-PhD students presently in the doctoral degree portion of their training at the Geisel School of Medicine research laboratory. In addition, fellows got the opportunity to examine the clinical aspect of medicine during weekly rounds with one of the college’s clinical faculty at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. From this exposure to the community of MD-PhD students at Dartmouth, fellows got a better understanding of the role of, and opportunities available to, a physician-scientist in training.
At Dartmouth, Wei worked with Associate Professor of Epidemiology Brock Christensen, and his lab that focuses on molecular epidemiology research. “The goal of my project was to understand the biological mechanisms that underlie the development of breast cancer,” Wei said.
Wei also had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Lara Ronon, a neurologist and neuro-oncologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
As a fellow, Wei’s housing, meals and travel were covered and she received a stipend of $1,000 as well as access to Dartmouth’s libraries and athletic facilities.
A Chellgren Fellow and Lewis Honors College member, Wei is the daughter of Wei Qiu and Xiaochen Wei, of Lexington. Wei first became active in research as a student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, where she was part of the Math, Science and Technology Center (MSTC). As part of her MSTC senior project, she worked in Dr. Peter Nelson’s lab at UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging to clone the ABCC9 gene to study hippocampal sclerosis.
Recently, Wei has been working with David Fardo, associate professor of biostatistics in the College of Public Health and researcher at the Sanders-Brown Center. She has been learning bioinformatic methods by coding in R, a statistical programming language. Once she becomes proficient, she will apply her new skills to studying hippocampal sclerosis by analyzing large data sets of genetic information. Wei is also working as a lab technician in Nelson’s lab. Previously, she worked with scientist Wangxia Wang, of the Sanders-Brown Center.
Last summer, Wei participated in a National Science Foundation-Research Experiences for Undergraduates in mathematics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
After graduation, Wei plans on attending a dual MD/PhD program to become a physician-scientist. She would like to complete her doctoral studies in biostatistics or systems biology, and then specialize in a genetics or oncology residency.
Wei is a great example of the opportunities research programs like the one at Dartmouth provides.
“Learning about how physician-scientists translate basic science research into improvements in medicine has solidified my choice to pursue an MD/PhD,” Wei said. “Shadowing Dr. Lara Ronon has shown me the power of research in medicine; I have seen how epigenetics already aids in cancer treatment plans to help treat patients. I have also had opportunities to connect with other MD/PhDs to hear about why they decided to go into this career and what steps they took to prepare for it. This experience has given me insight into both research and medicine that I will use to become a physician-scientist myself.”
Students interested in applying for opportunities like the Dartmouth MD/PhD Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Program should contact Pat Whitlow, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life at UK, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with Whitlow well in advance of the scholarship deadline.