Positive Reaction cover

After Class: Positive Reaction

Regis mentor and mentee perfect the art of scientific exploration at Harvard Medical School lab

By Allyson Manchester

Photo by Holly Redmond

Regis Today Spring 2019

Diana Tran ’16 was a junior at Regis when she secured an internship in the Harwell Lab at Harvard Medical School. Although she was excited to be working in such a prestigious lab, commuting costs quickly added up and caused her to consider terminating the internship. She confided in her psychology professor and adviser Helen Consiglio, PhD, who encouraged her to apply for the Class of 1959 scholarship, a fund that provides stipends to undergraduate students who have off-campus, unpaid internships.

With Consiglio’s support, Tran was awarded the scholarship and was able to continue with her internship. But what happened before she received the funds was equally as important in building momentum as a student scientist.

“The application for the scholarship really fueled my new scientific career,” Tran recalls. “The application asked me to write about science from a different perspective than I was used to. It challenged me to communicate how my research plays a vital role in health policies and how I plan to contribute to the scientific community.”

Tran continued her internship at Harvard Medical School through the time of her graduation. “What I loved most about Regis was the close-knit community,” she says. “My work in the larger environment of Harvard gave me a sense of representation and responsibility to show where my Regis education had gotten me and how I could build upon it.”

As she was nearing her graduation in 2016, Tran approached Corey Harwell, PhD, the principal investigator of the lab, and asked if he would be willing to take her on as a research assistant. He immediately hired her as a full-time member of the Harwell Lab. Harwell’s team focuses on the development and circuitry of specific subgroups of neurons. This is important for the understanding of neuronal diversity in the brain and related developmental disorders and disease.

As a research assistant, Tran participates in lab work and lab management. She works on multiple ongoing projects in the lab and keeps the lab running smoothly through her various managerial tasks.

“Because of my internship as a Regis undergraduate, I came into my job with a better understanding of how to communicate my needs in interpreting science and how to work with others in a lab,” she says. “I entered this position with a redefined and deeper respect for research and those who work in it.”

Lab Partners

One of the most rewarding and challenging experiences that Tran has enjoyed at her job so far is her mentorship of Andriana Harris ’19. The pair connected through Steven Threlkeld, PhD, Regis program director and associate professor of neuroscience. Threlkeld had heard of Harris’ previous research in sickle cell disease at the Howard School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and knew that she would be a perfect fit for the internship at the Harwell Lab. Since then, Harris and Tran have been working with each other directly and collaborating on research.

Before Harris started in the lab in spring 2019, Tran recalls that she was a bit nervous to work with someone from her alma mater. “At first, I wondered if I was qualified enough to be a mentor. But once Andriana started, we quickly connected over nostalgic memories of Regis and also our feelings of belonging in this type of high-powered work environment.”

Harris believes that Tran succeeds as a mentor because of her empathy and approachability. She appreciates Tran’s willingness to share her own experiences as an intern and use them as teaching tools.

“Diana understands that I am a quiet person who can be a bit shy at times,” Harris says. “Each time I am in the lab, she encourages me to speak up and always ask questions. I can tell that she genuinely wants me to get the most out of my experience.”

Tran notes that learning how to ask questions is crucial to developing confidence and finding success as a young scientist. An important quotation that she shares with her mentee is, “For every unasked question is a missed opportunity to learn.” Tran recalls, “I learned this quote from one of the post-doctoral fellows I used to work with and it has stuck with me ever since. It rings true to me more and more as I continue to work in this field. I hope it will resonate with Andriana as well as she continues her journey in figuring out her passions in science.”

Tran has also helped Harris in the early stages of her scientific career by encouraging her to apply for scholarships. In 2019, Harris secured funds through The Flatley Scholars Program. This scholarship provides financial support for Regis undergraduate students to participate in off-campus, unpaid internships. Since then, Harris has been able to devote her full attention to the Harvard Medical School internship.

“The support of The Flatley Scholars Program has inspired me to make every effort to return the favor to another Regis student in the future,” Harris says. And as she continues to grow from her work at the world-renowned labs of Harvard Medical School, she reflects further on how much the collaboration with a Regis alumna has added to her overall experience.

“I am so fortunate to have Diana’s support. I hope that I can keep the cycle going for another young scientist. If all Regis alumni reached out to current students to build professional relationships and help them into better positions, think of how much more powerful our institution could be.”

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