Student Interview: Chelsea Pinkham

Internships, fellowships, and work experiences of all kinds can be a valuable part of any academic experience, helping to shape your future interests. Here, we would like to showcase the talent of College of Science students and the wide range of opportunities you find to enhance your academic careers. Enjoy!


Chelsea Pinkham

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Undergraduate Major: Biology
Graduation year: 2012


Program: Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP)
Kylene Kehn-Hall, PhD
Location: National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases (NCBID), George Mason University, Manassas, Virginia
Amount of time at internship: 40 hours/week during the 2011 summer semester

How did you hear about this internship/research opportunity?

During the spring semester of my junior year at George Mason, I took Dr. Monique van Hoek’s medical microbiology class (BIOL 404). After speaking with her about my interest in going to graduate school, she recommended the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program to me, since the summer was approaching. She said it would be a good opportunity to get some hands-on lab experience and enhance my resume for graduate school.

Why did you choose to participate in an experiential learning opportunity?

“I feel that the education I received at Mason through my lecture classes had taught me the concepts, but I really wanted a more hands-on experience.”I feel that the education I received at Mason through my lecture classes had taught me the concepts, but I really wanted a more hands-on experience. Academic labs, required with most core biology classes, give you basic experience in lab work but aren’t necessarily the same as a research lab. A research lab provides a totally different and independent experience. Additionally, I knew that if I were interested in going into a biology graduate program, experience in a research lab would put me ahead of the curve.

What were your responsibilities? Did you acquire any career-specific skills or knowledge?

During my time in ASSIP, I worked with a graduate student who was studying the effects of novel inhibitors on the enzyme DXR, which is present in Mycobacterium tuberculosis and has become an interesting drug target. We worked on growing and purifying the enzyme, as well as testing its activity, and then analyzing the effects of the different inhibitors. I [primarily] helped with a project that investigated the effects of nuclear import and export inhibitors on theVenezuelan equine encephalitis virus. I helped out with a second, more chemistry based, project as well.

I feel I acquired many indispensable skills in this internship. It taught me the basic skills for laboratory-based research, such as cell culture, western blotting, RNA and DNA techniques, and protein assays. I also learned basic bacterial techniques.

Not only did I gain laboratory techniques, I also gained time management skills and the confidence to be self-sufficient. In academic labs associated with classes, you receive a lot of guidance from the professors, but in a research laboratory, you have to learn to get things done on your own. I think this is an essential skill, no matter what field you are going into.

What was the best and/or most challenging part of your experience?
“The most challenging part of the experience was getting used to the fact that some experiments will fail, and sometimes you won’t know why.”
The best part of the experience was actually being able to get a hands-on experience in a real, research laboratory where scientists are publishing novel findings. You spend all this time in high school and as an undergrad mastering the concepts presented to you in class; working in the lab gives you the chance to finally apply it. It really brought everything together for me, and gave me a better understanding of science.

The most challenging part of the experience was getting used to the fact that some experiments will fail, and sometimes you won’t know why. It takes a lot of patience, which is something I struggled with when I began working in the lab.

Did this experience affect your future goals or career plans? If so, how?

I got into ASSIP during the summer after my junior year as a Mason undergraduate. I wanted a hands-on experience in the lab, but I also wanted to enhance my resume for graduate school. After being in ASSIP, I was offered the opportunity to work in the lab throughout my senior year, and this eventually transitioned into graduate school. Having found the lab that fit me helped with the application process once I applied to graduate school.

Once you begin the graduate program and classes, you have to find a lab that interests you and has the resources to accommodate new students. This is one of the hardest parts of the graduate program, and I had already found a lab before I applied to the program!

When I applied to the program, I just wanted to do my MS in biology with a concentration in microbiology and infectious disease. Now that I’m in the lab, I plan on staying to get my PhD as well.

I think the experience had a domino effect, and gave me the push I needed to pursue my graduate degree and set myself up for a successful future.

Where can we find you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn, as well as Facebook.


Do you want to share your experience?

If you are a current student in (or recent graduate from) the College of Science, whether in an undergraduate or graduate program, we would like to hear about your recent internship, fellowship or work experiences. If you’ve had an experience you would like to share, email