When University of Wisconsin−Madison student Rebecca Schmitz first came to campus, she knew she wanted to major in something related to science and probably attend medical school.
“I wasn’t super sure what I wanted to do,” Schmitz says. “I have a lot of interests so I figured I’d get into college, test the waters and see.”
She applied for and got in the WISCIENCE Entering Research program. For her WISCIENCE work on cancer treatments, Schmitz recently received the John Emory Morris Undergraduate Research Award to fund a student’s summer research project in a University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center lab.
WISCIENCE builds skills
WISCIENCE is for students new to research and looking to find a mentor, build research skills, and begin a research project. Current undergraduate students at UW–Madison with little to no prior research experience are eligible to apply.
Schmitz began working in the lab of biomedical engineer Melissa Skala. Her experiences in Skala’s lab helped solidify her career goals. She now plans to apply for MD/PhD programs and hopes to focus her training in cancer research and care.
“I still want to be in the medical field and hopefully treating patients, but now that I’ve discovered research, I’m really excited about it,” Schmitz says. “I think being able to do research alongside medicine would be really fulfilling.”
Her undergraduate research award totaling $5,000 will help offset the costs of conducting research and provide Schmitz with a stipend. “This grant allows me to work in the lab as my full-time summer job, which means I can fully immerse myself in the project,” Schmitz says.
Over the summer, Schmitz will continue a project she has been developing with Skala and Alex Walsh. She is asking if the common lab model organism, zebrafish, can be used to develop personalized treatment plans for cancer patients.
Schmitz will take cultured cancer cell lines with known drug resistances, inject them into zebrafish where the cancer cells can grow and then treat the animals with anti-cancer drugs. Then, she will use microscopy to monitor how the cells are responding.
Skala is thrilled that her trainee received the Morris Award, calling Schmitz one of the most talented undergraduates she has worked with.
“With Rebecca, things just click. She has an intrinsic understanding of the scientific process and a remarkable intuition and curiosity for evidence-based research,” Skala says. “Her research project will help us understand the advantages and limitations of zebrafish as a potential diagnostic tool for developing patient-specific treatment plans.”