Meet Karl J. from the Retrovirus Lab at JHMI

Hopkins students have the opportunity to help out with all kinds of groundbreaking research! I chatted with Karl J., a research assistant in the Retrovirus Lab, a research group that works out of the department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Emily H.: How did you get started working on this research?

Karl J.: During the fall of my sophomore year, I simply sent out a number of emails to different faculty at Hopkins doing research in immunology asking if they had room for an undergraduate research assistant, most of whom were at the medical campus. Fortunately I was referred to Dr. Pate, my current PI (principal investigator, aka the person leading the research), by one of the individuals I emailed. We quickly set up a meeting to talk about my interests and background after which she agreed to take me on!

EH: What are your job responsibilities?

KJ: As a research assistant, I help my PI and others in the lab run a number of experiments needed for their projects or projects of my own. Because the lab is basic science in nature, most of the experiments are standard to many of the “wet labs” at Hopkins. Furthermore, because most of the PIs in the research group are veterinarians that model disease progression using animals, most the samples I experiment on come from mice or monkeys we maintain at the lab.

EH: What skills have you gained from this position?

KJ: More important than any technical skills I’ve learned concerned with how to conduct basic science research, working in the lab has dramatically increased my organizational discipline and patience. If one is not fully prepared to perform the entirety of an experiment at the start of a protocol, things can get out of control and frustrating very quickly; and one never knows how cells are going to actually respond to the protocols you perform on them (science is an art!), so handling unexpected results and then bouncing back to try again is so important for enjoying the work.

EH: How does your experience in this position relate back to your academic interests and future goals?

KJ: While I was interested in pursuing a career in medicine when I started at the position, this is no longer the case. However, I am now very interested in pursuing graduate school to study health systems (both from an economic and epidemiological standpoint, particularly as they relate to the handling of infectious disease). As such, working in the lab has most relevantly taught me about the process of research itself–how to ask good questions and pursue their answers with passion, integrity, persistence, and joy. More broadly, the experience has taught me so much about how to be a good teammate and collaborator with others in the research group or one’s field of interest. I am so grateful for this.

EH: How has working shaped your Hopkins experience?

KJ: Working, in any fashion, provides a great reprieve from the study grind. There’s something universally satisfying, I believe, when you receive payment for doing genuine and meaningful work, knowing that you’ve earned something tangible and useful as opposed to some of the more intangible and distant goals many students at Hopkins try to live off.

EH: Do you have any advice for job-seeking students or younger student employees?

KJ: If possible, try to speak with someone who has already had the job your interested in or works in the lab you want to apply for. I really lucked out in that I love to group of individuals I work with, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone, especially for people interested in doing research-related work.

Looking for a research job like Karl has? Here are 3 things that research job-seekers need to know.