Plum Island Animal Disease Center Research

What?-Detailed description of what you did during your STEP experience

During the course of May-July 2014, I was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to work at Plum Island Animal Disease Center as a summer intern. During my time there, I was given the task of developing and implementing a protocol to test the effects of differing soil types on the viability of Foot-and-Mouth Disease Serotype A24 over time. This project was actually a subset of the larger Cameroon project, which is currently still in progress via collaboration of the work of Dr. Rebecca Garabed of The Ohio State University, Dr. Simon Dickmu of LANAVET, and Dr. Luis L. Rodriguez of the ARS deparment at Plum Island. My project specifically involved the use of virus titrations, RNA extractions, and quantitative rRT-PCR to measure the amount of viral RNA, and infectious virus, present in the soils at 1.5 hours, 2.5 days, 5 days, 7 days, and 9 days at 25°C and 37°C. This study was completed with the intent of developing better protocols for farm decontamination if FMDV were to occur in New England and developing better models to predict FMDV spread in areas like those found in New England.​

So What? – A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts, judgments, and what you have learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did and how you reacted.

When the plane first made its big descent, I could not help but look out toward the scenery that Connecticut had to offer. I had never visited the east coast of the United States before, much less planned to live there for a consecutive set of three months to work independently for a government facility. Consequently, I truly did not know what to expect of my time at Plum Island. Nevertheless, as we gradually approached the grounds, I was in a complete state of awe; it was breathtakingly beautiful. A very fine line separated the calm Atlantic Ocean and its land counterpart, where sand glistened directly in front of the largest of estates, upon which stood many richly elegant homes. Beyond the horizon, I could see hilly terrain covered by the canopies of abounding trees. As intimidated as I was to start this new job, my surroundings prepared me well for the big adventure.

After just one month of working in the biosecurity level 3 laboratories, otherwise known as containment at Plum Island Animal Disease Center, I was able to habitually perform experiments that I had not known even existed prior to starting my internship. I had a set schedule in which my co-workers and I would carpool to a ferry each morning. This ferry took us to and from the island, where we would work for eight hours a day. I was extremely fortunate to have such a magnificent view during this commute, and even more so to have had the opportunity to work with such inspirational and intelligent people in the laboratories.

It was through this experience that I came to really understand what it means to be independent. Although at work every one of knew how vital it was to the success of a project to work together, there was much to learn outside of the job too. As I lived in an apartment on my own during this time, I was able to teach myself how to cook, spent much time reading novels and scientific journals, and familiarized myself with the New England environment. In the process, I gained a better understanding of myself and those around me. I heard the life stories of many of my co-workers who I befriended and spent time with outside of work. In doing so, I realized just how much I have been given and how much I take for granted daily. The fortuitous opportunity that I received to work at Plum Island Animal Disease Center this summer not only thoroughly taught me much about the veterinary medical field, but expanded my paradigm about life completely.

Now What? – Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.

My experience as a summer intern at Plum Island has greatly altered the way in which I view my future career. Beforehand, I did not have the experience to correctly summarize my thoughts on research in the veterinary medical field. I believed it to be nothing more than working late nights in a laboratory alone to push for the data one desired. I came to learn that it was much more than this, and instead a collective collaboration across the world to push for a change that would better the lives of both animals and humans with time. I now know that if I were to be fortunate enough to work in such a research laboratory again, I would gladly take it. The people that I met and the amount of effort they input to achieve such a success have tremendously influenced my decision to become more involved with research over the course of both my time as an undergraduate student and my future career.