Monday, October 27, 2014

URSP Student Lindsey Cundra Researches Summer Residential Governor’s School Curriculum Development

My current project encompasses the design, curriculum and syllabus of a summer research experience for high school juniors and seniors at George Mason University. The summer program focuses on bacteriophage evolution in soil environments in response to climate change. The project is part of a large collaboration with my undergraduate colleague Caroline Benzel and mentor Dr. James Schwebach. Dr. Schwebach taught a similar curriculum, called the Phagefinders program, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM). Caroline Benzel is focusing on designing a George Mason course to be integrated with the high school experience I am outlining.

Although I am currently seeking a concentration in microbiology, I did not take the course until the spring of my senior year. I quickly discovered my powerful fascination of the subject– everything from epidemiology to virology to immunology was enthralling to me.  Luckily, my undergraduate collaborator Caroline introduced me to Dr. Schwebach, who received his Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. Once I understood his ideas to continue the Phagefinders program at George Mason University, I knew I had to be a part of it. As an aspiring physician, this project is not only important to me because it provides invaluable mentorship and research opportunities to high school and college students, but it also expands our knowledge of phage evolution, which can be applied to countless trajectories in medicine (phage therapy, biotechnology and microbiome research to name a few).

On a weekly basis, I spend the majority of my time reading and reviewing countless journal articles related to phage ecology, phage evolution, evolutionary biology and phagefinder program conclusions. I prioritize the rest of my time to writing summary reviews, outlining my curriculum, brainstorming with my mentor and emailing my collaborators. Although I spend most of my time keeping up to date on the latest research, it always amazes me that I run across something new every day. Just this week, I discovered how viral metagenomics was used to identify phage in our gut microbiome, a new frontier in personalized medicine.