To Maryville College students, summer break signifies a retreat into the age-old collegiate relaxation rituals: lazy days on the beach, throwing a Frisbee with friends and intensive biomedical research. Well, maybe not all MC students. In fact, few undergraduates in the entirety of the United States are given summer opportunities like the one undertaken by junior Ravyn Thompson earlier this year.
Thompson, who was accepted along with only nine other undergraduates into a highly competitive 10-week internship at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., had a summer experience many students could only dream of. In her time at the laboratory, she collected and reported on preliminary data that will later be used to conduct research on the effects of environmental quality and chemical contamination on the immune systems and overall growth of marine organisms.
Specifically, Thompson worked with clearnose skates (scientific name “raja eglanteria”), a species of fish closely related to sharks and rays. In the marine biomedical and immunology lab, Thompson collected blood samples from the skates in order to examine the activity of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) in their immune systems. She did this by exposing the blood samples to dioxin (a chemical commonly found in marine environments) and FICZ (a chemical found in the body). The interaction of these chemicals with the skates’ white blood cells allowed Thompson to study the function of AHRs in the skates’ immune systems.
Needless to say, the internship provided an incredible opportunity for Thompson as a potential biomedical researcher and as a graduate candidate. Thompson, a biochemistry major looking to pursue biomedical research, will now be leaps and bounds ahead of her competition. The chance to conduct professional research, especially research in such a competitive program in her chosen field, will definitely come in handy as she prepares to pursue her PhD.
Maryville College also played an integral role in preparing Thompson to take on such an opportunity.
Because of her classes at MC, Thompson felt she could go into the program with a degree of confidence where methods of research and reporting were concerned.
Furthermore, Thompson said that Maryville prepares students in a close, intimate environment that other universities cannot provide.
“Many people believe that since they attend a small college, there are no opportunities out there for them, but one of the reasons that I was offered more than one internship position is because they look for students who don’t attend large universities where you can walk down the hall and knock on a professor’s door to become part of their research team,” she said.
According to Thompson, students from smaller colleges are privileged in that they receive an interdisciplinary education on an intimate scale and are taught to appreciate the necessity of hard work in achieving one’s goals.
While this opportunity was incredible for Thompson on a professional level, the importance of a fun and relaxing summer experience did not escape her. Although the lab followed the normal degree of professional protocol, she said “it was a stress-free environment. It was a job that made me excited to go to work every day, and I could see myself doing it in the future.” And, perhaps, the value of learning one’s passion in pursuing a field could even outweigh the value of the experience that was received.
Outside of the lab, Thompson found herself not lacking for summer solace. The Mote Marine Laboratory is conveniently located ten minutes away from the nearest beach and only five from the beautiful Sarasota Bay, allowing Thompson ample room for discovery and relaxation. Thompson spent her summer engaged in other activities, such as kayaking through mangrove tunnels, visiting a sea turtle hospital, snorkeling over coral reefs, and exploring a city that was completely new to her.
“I really didn’t have a least favorite part because I felt so blessed to be there. There was no time to become disappointed about anything,” she said.
Thompson experienced a rare occurrence: A summer that was both satisfying on a personal level and significant on a professional level.