Blog Infectious Disease

A passion for viruses

Written by Lauren Aycock, medical student University of Florida College of Medicine and Alumnae of the Summer Research Program- Public & Global Health Track

I remember the burst of joy I felt when I was accepted to Washington University at St. Louis’ Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. I vibrated with excitement as I scrolled through the list of projects ranging from local to global, benchwork to chart reviews – the possibilities seemed endless. I zeroed in on an influenza project led by Dr. Jacco Boon, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, despite my complete lack of microbiological research experience. My first call with Dr. Boon was nerve-wracking, to say the least, but from our first conversation, I knew that I’d selected the perfect mentor and project for the summer.

Lauren Aycock

Two years later, I’ve just completed my first year of medical school at the University of Florida. As I sit here planning the final details for my upcoming research trip to Panama where I’ll be studying endemic arboviruses, I can say with the utmost confidence that my summer at Washington University prepared me the most out of my entire undergraduate career. In fact, my Institute for Public Health experience is directly responsible for awakening my passion for viruses and inspiring me to pursue pediatric infectious disease post-residency.

Though my laboratory skills were lacking before this experience — I learned how to pipette on day one — I could confidently PCR, run assays, and operate in a BSL-2 hood in just two months. I especially loved our sessions as an Institute for Public Health cohort where we learned about a multitude of public health issues, both in St. Louis and abroad. The themes and lessons I discovered that summer inform how I view critical public health issues today.

I anticipated that my summer in St. Louis would be filled with excitement and discovery, but I had no idea just how much it would impact both my career and my life. While I am beyond grateful for the professional development I gained through the program, both in research and public health, what I loved most about my summer experience was my cohort. We adventured throughout St. Louis and across state lines together, exploring cities and embarking on memorable adventures. In just two months, I made lifelong friends.

Nara and I continue to tag each other in Facebook memes. Vineet and I meet up to celebrate birthdays and catch up on each other’s lives. Raja and I still check in to compare our medical school experiences. We even all still send each other messages in our Snapchat group.

So if you are looking for a summer program that allows you to build upon your research skills, no matter your experience level, apply to this program. If you are looking to dive into important public health issues on a deeper level, apply to this program. If you are looking to work with incredible mentors who can help encourage you and shape your future career, apply to this program. If you are looking to meet other incredible and passionate students, apply to this program. I did, and it has made all the difference.