Callie Rominger ’21, Spends Many Hours Using Her Computer to Sequence Genomes at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.

Hi! My name is Callie Rominger and I am a senior majoring in Biology and currently on the pre-health track here at Whitman. My internship this summer is at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center working in a lab in the Basics science division. Currently, I’m working at home in Walla Walla, but Fred Hutch is located in Seattle, WA. My internship entails working on a bioinformatics project with mammalian histones and collaborating with Dr. Pravrutha Raman, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab who has been my mentor this summer. 

Way back in January I thought I had my whole summer planned out, beyond that I even had worked out plans for my thesis! That is until the pandemic changed all of that. I was in Ecuador when I heard schools were starting to shut down, summer programs were being canceled, and then soon after so was my study abroad program and they promptly sent us back to the US. It was right then when I had no clue, not even the slightest idea what I was going to do this summer. 

Amidst all the chaos there is one thing we all seemed to share: an undoubtedly overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. After being so sure of what I was going to do, where I was going to work, and how my senior thesis would play out I did not like being left with this uncertain feeling. 

I had been in contact with some labs about research opportunities and as COVID-19 swept across the US, most would respond to me saying they can’t offer me a position as their labs were transitioning to COVID-19 testing labs. Everything seemed bleak. At this point I was for sure I would be doing a spider population count in my backyard hoping that could pass as my thesis. I was somber, like the rest of the world, and restless, however, unbeknownst to me I had a great opportunity heading my way. At the time I was also emailing the Principal Investigators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Harmit Malik, who runs a lab in the Basics science division. I didn’t expect anything from him. Email after email we sent to each other and my options still seem limited. However, Harmit kept working with his lab and eventually was able to offer me a position working with Pravrutha in an online format on a bioinformatics project. I had currently been looking into other positions but quickly decided to take this opportunity, as they seemed to be few and far between.

A typical day for me starts around 8 am where I eat breakfast, get in a workout then head to work, a.k.a the desk in my room. I spend many hours on my computer sequencing genomes, calling my mentor with questions, attending lab meetings, and reading journal articles. It sounds very boring, but I have been loving it. What can I say I’m a science geek and I get excited about DNA sequences! 

I have never been so grateful to be part of this lab. The members, my mentor, and our PI create such a welcoming atmosphere and a space to further our scientific curiosity and understanding. Beyond my work, I’ve also had the opportunity to speak individually with each lab member, all 20 of them, and in these meetings, people offer me advice in the lab about med school, about future jobs I may want, and help guide me with the work I’m doing. I’ve never been part of a work community that cares so much about offering support in every aspect of my life, it’s incredible! 

Although an at home bioinformatics internship with a lab was very far from what I had ever expected to do this summer, I couldn’t be happier with this outcome. And I could have COVID to thank but rather it was Harmit and Pravrutha that put in the effort that allowed me to work in a distant manner whilst gaining research experience, improve on my professionalism in the biological field, and strengthen my scientific reading skills.

Experiences like Callie’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez

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