Colby Schweibenz ’17 had the opportunity to study abroad in Quito, Ecuador. A Biochemistry major with a Spanish minor, Colby is planning to pursue a career as a disease research biochemist after completing graduate school.
While in Ecuador, Colby had the opportunity to work in a cellular biology research lab through her host university’s Latitude Zero Ecuador Research Initiative (LOERI) Program. The program his highly selective; only 5 international students are accepted each semester. Colby was lucky enough to be accepted into the program in the area of breast cancer research.
After her first week at university, Colby learned she would be going to the Hospital de los Balles to perform her research. Her research professor helped to calm her nerves and assigned papers and documents to read to help understand cancer.
Eventually, she began to learn about the research group’s assigned project, called Master Genes Project. The project investigated the effects of altered gene expression associated with aggressive breast cancer to develop a better diagnostic tool. If the lab could develop a test where gene combinations could provide early diagnosis, it would help with the treatment.
Colby then began to meet the students within the program. Two PhD students headed experiments that Colby and another undergraduate student helped with. The experience with the Spanish language in the lab could be frustrating at times; the required face masks muffled what her peers were saying. Even so, by the end of the semester, Colby was speaking more fluently and understanding almost everything.
The lab experience did not feel like an internship or a class, but rather a community. Everyone was working towards a common goal, causing the group to feel close. The sense of community helped convince Colby this was the path she wanted to take.
In addition to lab research, Colby had the opportunity to speak with a physician and surgeon about her work in diagnostics and treatments for breast cancer. In addition, she was given a tour of the hospital and was able to see all instruments used for mammograms and ultrasounds and learned about the day to day lives of the doctors at the hospital.
An additional bonus was the chance to participate in the university’s attempt to break the world record for most people dressed in Star Wars costumes in one place. Everyone had a great time planning their costumes and everyone within the hospital was highly involved. In the end, the university did, in fact, break the world record.
At the end of the semester, Colby presented her research to a group of friends, lab mates, professors, and the LOERI community. This presentation solidified Colby’s knowledge of Spanish, the excitement for working in a research lab, and her knowledge about breast cancer.
*Click on the hyperlinks above to learn more about the Quito, Ecuador program and to read Colby’s original blog published by BCA Study Abroad on January 10, 2018.
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