Get to Know Jonte
23 June 2019
I am no stranger to challenges and taking risks. In fact, I joined the swim team without knowing how to swim and started pole vaulting without giving it a second thought. I’ve literally put myself into copious situations where I knew I was bound to fail but understood that it was necessary in order for me to succeed. However, even with my extensive history of living life on the edge of my comfort zone, the Fox Chase Cancer Center Summer Internship threw me a curve ball, as I realized I have only been challenging myself in athletics, or areas I knew I was already strong in like English. My two weeks at this internship so far have taught me to challenge my math and science skills and to be just as comfortable and patient with my mistakes in STEM, as I am with sports and literature.
The main reason I applied to the program was to learn. I wanted to put myself in a position to absorb as much as I could about cancer, an unfamiliar realm. My first one and half weeks went great as I internalized everything that was imbued upon me by my mentor, Dr. Janusz, who is very warm and understanding, and made me comfortable with asking questions. The procedures came easy to me and I was already starting to do some tasks on my own. Out of curiosity, I ventured to the other side of my lab to see what was happening and that’s when I naïvely strolled into my newest challenge: western blots, the presumed bane of my existence. As soon as I started the procedure I continued to make mistakes on every step for two consecutive days and made way for self-doubt to take root.
I‘d forgotten what it felt like to truly make mistakes and have my weaknesses exposed as I didn’t comprehend procedures as fast as I picked up most things that I’d done in my prior lab. I became so frustrated with my lack of progress that I didn’t want to touch another western blot and I was nearly to the point of tears (or more accurately past the point of tears but that’s off the record). Thankfully, Kris Raghavan noticed that I was selling myself short and took me under his wing as a mentee. He re-instilled that I was chosen for this program for a reason, that it was okay to make mistakes, and the program was meant to meet me on whatever level I was on and grow from there. This genuinely embodies what sets this program apart from all others. Here, they focus on the individual as a whole, not just their ability to pipette liquids in and out of containers. They focus on me as a person.
Reflecting on my western blot “fiasco”, I realized that it was necessary in order for me to begin growing and building off of my mistakes and weaknesses. Based off of everything I’ve learned so far within these two weeks, I am confident that by the end of this unique 10-week program, I will have conquered much more than a western blot. I will have expanded upon my understanding of how mistakes and mishaps are necessary for personal and academic growth. I will have solidified my perspective that mistakes are learning opportunities and not flaws. I will have unyielding confidence in STEM. I will have a stronger voice not because I succeeded often, but because I failed plenty.
The Precursors of Success
14 July 2019
Progress is not only the process of getting things right but is more so a mentality of determination when things go wrong. Without the latter, there is no progress. Since my first attempt at a western blot, I’ve not only seen small strides in fixing my mistakes within a procedure but I’ve also seen developments in my mindset when tackling issues. Instead of solely focusing on what went wrong, I focus on areas of improvement. Instead of viewing mistakes as mere failures, I see them as learning experiences, the precursors of success.
The confidence that I’ve gained through my perseverance of western blots translated to the development of my experiment for the summer. For my project, I’m studying the impacts of ascorbic acid on the extracellular matrix and comparing two types of ascorbic acid, one with a chemical modification and one without, to determine which of the two is more beneficial. Now that I’m confident in my abilities, I’ve treated breast cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), and pancreatic cancer-associated fibroblasts with two types of ascorbic acid, performed immunofluorescence on both types of fibroblasts and acquired images of the extracellular matrices that the breast and pancreatic CAFs produce. I’ve developed several experiments to further test if indeed one of the types of ascorbic acid is better than then other and presented my findings to my lab through a PowerPoint presentation.
Even though the program is now halfway over, I can already see the strides I’ve been making both in and outside of the lab. From western blots and immunofluorescence to comfort zones and confidence, I have learned so many skills that are applicable to many aspects of my life. I’m proud that I’m not only understanding scientific concepts that I had not been exposed to before but also understanding what it means to be and think like a scientist. I’m discovering the immense influence mentality has on progress as I realized that a shift in my mentality is what enabled me to expand upon my capabilities. Although I’m already halfway through the program, I feel like this is only the beginning.
To Be a Scientist
11 August 2019
When I applied to this program, it never crossed my mind that this internship would contribute to my personal growth just as much as my academic. What surprised me even more, was how much I enjoyed every small detail about being in a lab all day as much as I did. In addition to finding the simple act of pipetting liquids from one tube to another riveting, I also got to change and treat the media of pancreatic, and breast cancer-associated fibroblasts with Vitamin C, and watch them grow. I liked analyzing the fibroblast-derived matrices, fibronectin, and alpha-smooth muscle actin through immunofluorescence. Throughout my time, I saw myself improve with every western blot, and my confidence in my capabilities extrude. Throughout my time, I began to see myself as a scientist.
Besides the experiments I’ve conducted, I realized that a scientist can look like anyone. You can be black and be a scientist. You can be female and be a scientist. You can have ADHD and be a scientist. You can be yourself and be a scientist. I finally saw what I’ve speculated most of my life: there is no definitive phenotype of a scientist.
Every person I met in this program has had an impact on me. I met people that genuinely care about me as a person. From Kris Raghavan realizing that my difficulties with western blotting were deeper than the procedure itself, to Dr. Jansuz Franco-Barraza’s reassurance of my capabilities. From Dr. Jennifer Alexander’s help with building my confidence and her support with aspirations that I have outside of the lab, to Dr. Jaye Gardiner’s imbuement of the importance of being myself and being exposed to a diverse representation of scientist. It’s extraordinary individuals like them and others, who truly make it hard to say goodbye.
I’m incredibly grateful for having had the opportunity to be a part of this unparalleled program. Not only have I realized that I like science more than I thought, but I also got to make connections and relationships to great scientists within Fox Chase. I’ve learned about science and myself in ways that I didn’t think were possible by just interning in a lab for 10 weeks. I’m beyond excited and optimistic to see the achievements I’ll accomplish in the future because of the experience I’ve had in this program.