A Postcard From: Catherine Tsai ’20

Name: Catherine Tsai
Class Year: 2020
Major: Biology
Hometown: Wayne, New Jersey

Internship Placement: Department of Biology
Job Title: Research Assistant
Location: Bryn Mawr College

What’s happening at your internship?

I am currently working in the lab of Dr. Gregory Davis to investigate the role of Juvenile Hormone in the reproductive polyphenism of the pea aphid, acyrthosiphon pisum. Aphid mothers are able to produce either sexual or asexual offspring in response to different environmental cues. We suspect that juvenile hormone (JH), a hormone found in several other insects, is involved in the switch from sexual to asexual fate. My goal is to block the synthesis of JH to observe the significance of its role in reproductive fate. Unfortunately, there are four versions of the enzyme that is responsible for JH synthesis. The functional version is still unknown, so I am hoping to find which version of the enzyme is the correct one before I can proceed with the knockdown of JH.

In regions where the photoperiod is relatively constant, one would expect that the aphids would not need to switch reproductive modes to accommodate a change in the environment. Previous work in the lab has shown that some aphid strains from the southern regions of the United States have evolved to only reproduce asexually instead of switching between sexual and asexual reproduction. My second goal is to compare levels of JH between different aphid strains as a step toward understanding the genetic differences that presumably underlie these evolved changes in plasticity.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied for this internship mainly for the experience of working in a lab. I am considering research as a career option after college, but I wasn’t exactly sure what a day in the life of a researcher entailed. I am hoping that this experience will help me decide what I’d like to do in the future. I believe this internship will allow me to gain useful technical and critical thinking skills as well.

Was there anything special about how you found this internship?

Participating in Bryn Mawr’s Summer Science Research Program has been my first research experience so far. I actually did not expect to get this position given that I’m only first year with no prior research experience. I am grateful that Bryn Mawr offers these types of opportunities with such great accessibility, and that the faculty are so willing to introduce lower classmen to higher forms of scientific research. I am not sure whether I would have been able to get an opportunity like this had I gone somewhere else.

What is most rewarding about your internship?

Working in the lab is an excellent opportunity to gain a broad range of skills. While conducting research, you definitely gain expertise within your particular part of the project, but research is also a collaborative effort. Everyone in the lab focuses on their own area of the project, but all of our areas relate to each other in many ways. Because our focus areas overlap, we tend to work together a lot. To help each other out, we often have to stay up to date on what each one of us is working on and learn how use a certain software program, or how to perform some type of procedure that is pertinent to someone else’s part of the project. As a result, you develop new skills that aren’t exactly particular to your area, but they are still useful. So far there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t learned something new whether it be related to my own topic or someone else’s. Developing such a broad range of skills over multiple areas of this project has been the most rewarding part of this experience.