From biochemistry student to cancer researcher

"Emma O'Leary '16 "

Photo credit: Leah Masci

Emma O'Leary '16

Major: Biochemistry

Summer Research Internships: Kirchhausen Lab, Research Assistant, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Banham Lab, Research Assistant, Oxford University/John Radcliffe Ho, England

I chose to pursue a biochemistry major at Mount Holyoke because I like to be challenged.

Biochemistry is not easy, but it fulfills my need to be intrigued, to be confronted with complex questions, and to participate in independent research. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Mount Holyoke, and that has been largely due to my experience as a chemistry and biochemistry Peer-Led Undergraduate Mentoring System (PLUMS) mentor and tutor. Through these experiences, I have found that I love helping and mentoring other people.

I was lucky enough to participate in research after my first year in the Kirchhausen Lab at the Immune Disease Institute in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. For two consecutive summers, I studied the formation of giant unilamellar vesicles and found ways to optimize protein recruitment to these vesicles. These independent projects were crucial in building a model system to study a process called clathrin-mediated endocytosis, which is one mechanism cells use to take up material from the extracellular environment.

When contemplating internships for the summer after my junior year, I knew I wanted to do research overseas. When I decided to come to MHC as a freshman, I wanted to study abroad during the academic year. However, I found I could not do research abroad due to my course work and other commitments on campus.

I decided instead to travel and work in England for the summer. I was very lucky to be chosen to work in the Banham Lab, which is part of the Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences and affiliated with the University of Oxford. There, I studied a specific receptor that signals aberrantly in cancer patients through a variety of techniques, including DNA cloning, gel electrophoresis, restriction digests, flow cytometry, tissue culture, primer design, and site-directed mutagenesis.

This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, and it would not have been possible without the support from MHC and Lynk-UAF funding.