As an undergraduate in biology, I had chosen not to do a thesis project. Knowing that medical school would be challenging without the extra responsibility it might seem odd to be attracted to an institution at which a thesis was a requirement for graduation. Unlike a PhD thesis in which one has to come up with new knowledge, the MD thesis only required that one attempt to answer a question. Acceptable topics could be anything from psychoanalysis in theater to traditional laboratory experiments. Still, it was extra…and not optional. When I visited as a candidate, I was impressed with the confidence and engagement the students had regarding their core training AND this special project. I wanted that.
As an undergraduate student, although I had been a research assistant at a psychology think tank, I had decided not to write a thesis to graduate in my major of biology. All though out school, I had specifically avoided doing laboratory research as it seemed so stereotypically “pre-med” and many times it appeared students just did this work not out of any interest other than how it would look on a medical school application. How funny was it then that I choose to do my thesis in a molecular biology laboratory in medical school. Feeling free to choose something that would contribute to my growth, I wanted to experience the process and techniques that were followed for many of the scientific breakthroughs that I read about. At the time, the AIDS epidemic was at its peak. I choose to work in an infectious disease laboratory studying a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, that was causing a significant opportunistic infection in AIDS patients because of their decreased immune defenses. Specifically, I was looking at how this organism, which lived inside of host cells, was able to avoid detection and survive, while having to interact with the host to get nutrients.
Although I have no plans to become a laboratory investigator, the experience of doing a laboratory research thesis as a medical student is something I am grateful for today. It gave me an appreciation of process and developed my critical thinking skills. It also gave me the confidence that even when I am taking on something notoriously challenging, such as medical school, that if I need to I can always so more. My thesis did not create new knowledge, but it did contribute in that it showed that the path I took to explore the question I had asked was not the way.
I recently received notice that The Cushing/Whitney Medical Library had digitized my Yale School of Medicine thesis, and that it was included in the Yale University Library’s digital scholarship platform EliScholar making the work available to the world on an open-access platform. It’s exciting to think that people who continue to do basic science research have access to, and might find value in, my small contribution.
So, in honor of those who do the meticulous work of scientific research, this week Aglow Dermatology gives toThe Cushing/Whitney Library at the Yale School of Medicine. Join us!
If you’d like to check out my thesis here is the link:
Strachan, Dina D., “Construction of an epitope-tagged clone of GRA3 for electroporation into Toxoplasma Gondii” (1994). Yale Medicine Thesis Digital Library. 3215.
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