SUMMER RESEARCHERS REPORT BACK: Victoria Yan ’19 shares experience at MD Anderson Cancer Center


Q: Where did you do research this summer?

A: I was in Houston this summer doing research at MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is affiliated with the University of Texas. 


Q: What specifically were you researching?

A: So MD Anderson is obviously focused on cancer and eliminating cancer, so I was working on more of the chemical synthesis lab and chemical biology side of that area. I actually had two projects because we were initially assigned mentors and we didn’t really have a choice over who we were being assigned to.

Photo by Ayla Safran ’18  Victoria Yan ’19 worked in cancer research in Houston.

Photo by Ayla Safran ’18

Victoria Yan ’19 worked in cancer research in Houston.

 The first person I worked with, his name was Dr. Steve Millward and he has a definitely more chemistry-heavy lab compared to everybody else who works there because they’re mostly biology focused. 

In his lab, I was synthesizing peptides to tag the caspace-3 enzyme and that enzyme’s important in cell apoptosis, or programmed cell death. When this enzyme is activated, it’s indicative of the fact that the cell is going to undergo apoptosis. This is important because making these peptides can help us image cell death in real time which helps us because many cancer therapies utilize this cell death mechanism to mitigate and eliminate tumors. By having these peptides, we can monitor a treatment for a patient non-invasively and in real time. 


 Q: Do you have any advice for students who want to get involved in research, who don’t really know where to go? 

A: First, I don’t think you should be afraid to reach out to professors. I do research here, I started in the spring of my sophomore year, and I did ask many professors and I got turned down by many professors. Persistence is key. 

Because we’re only undergraduate students, I think more important than finding a lab that has your general research interest, it’s more important that you find a professor that you work really well with and that you actually enjoy being around so that you’re eager to go to lab.

 As for other things beyond that, I think you should have some confidence and hope. With MD Anderson, I probably would not have applied at all if I hadn’t gone to this biology seminar that my friends dragged me to where a person from MD Anderson was speaking. I only went because of the food