Ran Shu always knew he wanted to do research, but wasn’t always so sure that he’d get his opportunity. Despite a rough start at McGill, Ran Shu perservered and is now the author of a paper published in this edition of the McGill Science Undergraduate Research Journal (MSURJ)! A fourth year undergraduate student with a major in Biochemistry and an interest in Computer Science, Shu spent the past summer in the lab of Dr. David Dankort and continued with his project during the fall semester as a BIOC 396 research course. We spoke with Ran to learn more about his research experiences and understand the personal and scientific significance of his research – and his recently-published paper!
Tell us a bit about yourself!
“Well, I was born in Beijing, and lived there for three and a half years before moving to Montreal. We had moved here so that my dad could pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry at McGill. I actually grew up in the Ghetto for a good part of my childhood. As a kid, there isn’t very much to do in Ghetto – I mean, it’s certainly geared more towards student life. Looking back though, exploring downtown and seeing the alleyways that I used to play in is pretty cool – things really haven’t changed and seeing these places always brings back good memories.
I also went to the F.A.C.E. school, which is on University just south of Milton. At that school, you have to take music classes, sing, play an instrument, do arts and crafts, and even take drama classes! By my dad’s request, my instrument was the violin but I eventually went on to play the trumpet in high school. While I certainly had lots of fun at this school, it was always science that attracted me most!”
When you arrived at McGill, at what point did you feel motivated to do research and what was that motivation?
“Well, research was always something I wanted to try, and I was definitely inspired by my dad who had also conducted research. My first lab experience was in a psychiatry lab, where I was responsible for conducting an EEG study on memory. As mental health is a very important aspect of my life, I definitely felt a very personal motivation to learn more about the correlations between memory and mental illness.”
With that first lab experience, how was your perspective on research shaped?
“I definitely had a good time at that lab as I learned a lot about research in general. While I felt that particular lab wasn’t really a good fit for me, I knew that every lab has a different dynamic and I was still eager to pursue further research experiences. My second lab position with Dr. David Dankort – the supervisor of my MSURJ published paper – was a different and very positive experience.”
How did you obtain your lab position with Dr. Dankort?
“Well, I took his genetics course during the summer and did quite well in it, but I also liked to help a lot of other individuals in the class both during office hours and by answering questions on the discussion board. I like to think this was the reason he noticed me, because when I finally introduced myself to Dr. Dankort, he recognized my name and said ‘Oh wow, you’re that person that always answers the discussion board questions. Thanks Ran!’ I really like to believe that it was because of my dedication to helping others that I was able to obtain a position with Dr. Dankort.”
What would you say interests you most about research?
“I think I really like how unpredictable research is – you might go into a project thinking you’re going to do one thing, but then part way through you realize your original model is wrong and you have to completely change your approach. I find that’s what’s most exciting – not knowing what you’ll find!”
Can you tell us a bit more about the project that you worked on?
“My project was to determine how responsive certain cells were to the presence of a drug, and if they were able to grow in the presence of this drug. In other words, we were characterizing cells and attempting to determine the most responsive cell line. We began by infecting cells with a virus that contained a particular drug receptor – when treated with this specific drug, the cells over-express a particular protein (called BRAF) that normally causes cells to stop growing. However, infecting cells with a virus is an unpredictable process, and not all cells are infected in the same way. Thus, my project focused on identifying the cells which were infected with the drug receptor in the most effective way.”
And what were the results of the project?
“After infecting cells with the virus, we got 12 different cell types of infected cells. We wanted to figure out which cell was most responsive, so we performed both time trials (treated the cells with the drug over different time periods) and dose response curves (treated the cells with the drug at different concentrations). In the end, there was one cell line that was most responsive to the drug, so we isolated these cells are cultured them so that they may be used for future use.”
Is the project that you worked on a component of a larger project?
“Yup, it’s actually the beginning of a very large project that is hopefully going to be conducted sometime in the near future. The finding of my project – that is, the characterized cell line – is a tool that is going to be used within a large-scale genetic screen. Genes will be knocked down at random, in order to identify which genes are associated with cell growth and cause cell proliferation even when it shouldn’t occur.”
Going into this lab, what sort of skills did you have, and where did you learn them?
“Most of my research experience came from my previous lab in the psychiatry lab. The techniques that I implemented in the lab I learned from my BIOC 300D class- although a difficult course, the techniques we learned were super valuable and definitely came in handy.”
Any plans for future research endeavours?
“Well, I had a pharmacy interview last weekend, but I can’t really say where I’m going to end up. While I have an interest in pharmacy, I also have interests in organic chemistry, computer science, and mental health. Ideally, I would like to be in a program by which I could apply all those aspects. Also, I would ideally like to be in a position where I could perform both research and clinical work.”
Do you have any advice for other undergraduate research students interested in pursuing research?
“For anyone interested in doing research, I would say just go for it! For me, I actually did quite poorly during my first semester at McGill and I thought I would never get to do research because I believed there was some sort of ‘GPA requirement,’ or ever get an interview with a school for a vocational program. I honestly didn’t think I would even graduate on time. However, I’ve conducted tons of research and really gone way beyond what I could have ever expected.
For those of you who feel discouraged after a tough semester – don’t give up! If you’re interested in research and life sciences in general, keep on pushing forward because there’s so much being offered and so much to learn. At the end of the day, grades really don’t matter – it’s who you are, how you see yourself, and what you think you can accomplish that’s important!”
You can read Shu’s article here*.
*Links to the original research articles will be available as soon as the journal is uploaded online at msurj.mcgill.ca