Zachary Elman

How did Zach Get Here?

02 July 2022

Hello there! I am Zach, and I am a rising Senior at the University of Delaware. I am majoring in Biology with a minor in Medical Humanities. Currently, I am part of the Phi Delta Epsilon Medical Fraternity, Making Doctors, and several Intramural Sports. I aspire to attend medical school and specialize in the field of surgery There are so many new forms of technology and patient care that never fail to amaze me.

I am passionate about cancer care; my family has been hit very close with this disease. I wanted to make a difference. However, I felt very limited in opportunities due to being an undergraduate with no research experience (thanks Pandemic!). Lo and behold, I learned about the Fox Chase Cancer Center fellowship and how experience was not a necessity; the opportunity seemed almost too good to be true. I had the privilege of being able to talk with program alumni Houston and TraMi. They shared great information about what they learned and gained from their 10 weeks in Philadelphia.

Alone, the opportunity to have such a large impact in research as an Undergraduate was enough to get me interested. During a tour of Fox Chase Cancer Center, I learned about what the program had to offer. I observed a lab exercise and learned so much from just an hour of observation. If an hour of watching and taking part in a shorter exercise was able to garner so much interest and learning, I could barely fathom what 10 weeks could do for me!! I knew I had to put my best foot forward and do what I could to be the best candidate.

When the first week of the program came around, we were immediately put to work. This was not busy work; it was fulfilling and enriching work that refreshed skills as well as taught new ones. Dr. Purdy and Dr. Leystra did a great job to ensure we were constantly learning, busy and challenged that first week. We went across the spectrum of science through learning several wet lab techniques wile also having discussions pertaining to reading and understanding scientific literature. Seeing all this new jargon and terminology was a bit overwhelming at first. As a group, we chunked articles into manageable bite-size pieces and broke down what they meant. From there, we were able to grasp the material a lot better moving forward. It also helped that I was able to make great friends immediately with the other three students in the program.We went along the journey of learning together.

“The graduate student in my lab, Delia, was amazing at walking me through different procedures and teaching me how to run gels, split and culture cells, and so much more”

When I was introduced to my lab, I utilized the skills from our first week to better grasp what he lab researched. I read papers that gave me a good overview as to what I would be studying. Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), the disease my lab studies, is admittedly hard to understand at first. Dr. Lori Rink, my mentor, did a great job at breaking down the material so that I felt prepared running my own experiments. The graduate student in my lab, Delia, was amazing at walking me through different procedures and teaching me how to run gels, split and culture cells, and so much more. I am running Western Blots to support the research she has been doing in partnership with another lab. She was also learning something new, so we were both in the same boat.

I am excited for the next 5 weeks as I am learning to conduct my own experiments. I will be able to apply all my knowledge that I have learned so far and am expecting to learn a lot more.

Looking back now that I am done

21 August 2022


“I am now better prepared and well equipped to continue my path in the field of science. This summer at Fox Chase has been surreal, fulfilling, and fun.”

After the 10 weeks of research, shadowing, and fun, I gained so much knowledge and experience that will carry with me throughout my career path. This summer, I have been working in Dr. Lori Rink’s lab to see if we can find a new treatment for therapy-resistant GISTs. I contributed my weeks of work to testing a potential new target for therapy, Wee1. A key skill that was part of my time was making Western Blots.

Throughout the summer, I became progressively better at Western Blots. At first, I was watching each step carefully and meticulously. I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly. However, my cells were contaminated the first time around. This meant I could not even start the Western Blot. I had to regroup, replan, and be flexible to organize my next experiment. My first two Western Blots after were not usable. This was discouraging, yet it taught me to endure and adjust. It was not until the very last day in the lab that I got data that could be utilized in my presentation. I felt accomplished, empowered, and ecstatic to share data that I, myself, obtained. It was a representation of all the growth the summer provided me. I felt especially proud to share everything I learned with my family. During lab meetings, I got a happy fuzzy feeling when I made a competent contribution to the conversation. This was not something I expected to be able to do so quickly. I was treated as an equal rather than an underling, and this meant a lot to me.

On top of the immersive lab work, I was able to shadow surgeons at different points in the program. It was my first time in an operating room, and I was so happy to see the work environment I envisioned myself being in. The fellow undergraduate students in the program also have proved to be long lasting friends. We were able to take a weekend and go to the beach, ride some roller coasters, and talk about our labs. Along with dinners out and movies, I now have a support system as we all roam down a similar path in science. There were times where stress piled up and I felt discouraged. The figures in my labs and the program kept me afloat and motivated. A true support system was quickly established. I am thankful to have this enriching program in my tool belt. My eyes have been opened to so many different career paths and opportunities. I have also established connections within the Fox Chase family that I would be more than happy to use in the future. I am now better prepared and well equipped to continue my path in the field of science. This summer at Fox Chase has been surreal, fulfilling, and fun.