Loyolan Shares Research Experience Through Photos

Christian Capanna has participated in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program at Xavier University, conducted research with Loyola Anthropology Professor Dr. Anne Grauer through a LUROP Mulcahy Scholarship, and explored medical research in New York through the Tri-Institutional Gateways to the Laboratory Program.  In the summer of 2013, he began conducting medical education research in Jamaica through a Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Program (MHIRT).  In this photo essay, Capanna documents his experiences.

 

 

Research. While the word and idea may sound intimidating, my experiences in scientific investigation have been the most meaningful and exceptional undergraduate experiences both academically and socially. People don't generally think of research as a way to live in new places, or meet lots of new people. They think of a small dark lab where you sit alone with test tubes laughing to yourself, because obviously you’re crazy. I can attest that nothing could be further from the truth.

Capanna (third from left) in Jamaica with fellow MHIRT researchers

My first research experience was an REU or Research Experience for Undergraduates Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, which I participated in immediately following my freshman year in the summer of 2011. REU programs are numerous and incredibly rewarding for participants. Many undergraduate universities host summer REU programs, including Loyola’s very own Chemistry department. My flight, food and housing were all completely covered during my stay, and I got paid on top of it all, just for doing research! Who could ask for a better summer?

Capanna (front) celebrates his research results with fellow REU researcher

I was given my own research project, investigating two proteins important to breast cancer development. Summer programs do not coddle their interns. You are expected to act as a graduate student, no matter what year in your undergraduate career you are and my work during the REU program reflected this. Working 40 hour weeks in the lab, writing a referenced and journal worthy final paper and creating a poster presentation all within ten weeks certainly sounds like a lot, but there was always down time to hang out with the other summer interns, explore all New Orleans had to offer or even just go to the pool.  Many REU programs also include funds for their students to present their research nationally. I was lucky enough to be picked to present my research at the Council on Undergraduate Research Conference at the National Science Foundation in D.C. in November of 2011.

The National Science Foundation, where Capanna presented his REU work

After enjoying the work I conducted during my summer in New Orleans so much, I sought to continue my research experiences here at Loyola. I began by reading about the different laboratories and reading recent articles that the professors here published, I chose the professor I was most interested in working with, Dr. Anne Grauer, and arranged to meet with her to discuss the research she was currently conducting. I began working in her laboratory soon after. I was given my own project looking at the isotopes within human skeletons from 19th century Peoria Illinois in order to generally determine what the population was eating and more specifically at what age children were weaned.

 

Capanna examines human skeletons under the mentorship of Dr. Anne Grauer at Loyola

In my junior year I was awarded a Mulchay Scholars award to continue my research through LUROP and was able to conduct part of my research at Rutgers and Seton Hall University thanks to their funding. In the two years I have conducted research at Loyola, the mentorship and incessant interaction with faculty has proved invaluable. Research opens possibilities in the courses an undergraduate can take, the resources undergraduates have access to and confidence in their scientific ability any career will demand.  

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Capanna stands next to the mass spectrometer he used at Rutgers

Research has also illuminated new occupational futures I was previously unaware existed. While I had always hoped to obtain a medical education, I began to seriously consider making research a larger part of that future. Thus, the summer after my sophomore year I conducted bone sialoprotein research as part of the Weill Cornell-Rockefeller-Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional MD/Ph.D. Program’s Gateways to the Laboratory Program in New York City. The Gateways Program was the highlight of my undergraduate career. As an all-encompassing internship, the Gateways Program immersed me into what it meant to be a medical student and researcher and expected me to behave as a graduate student.

Capanna (second from right) and fellow Gateways researchers in the gross anatomy lab

The program has been one of the most rigorous and rewarding parts of my education thus far. A considerable effort was made by the program to immerse the students in research and develop the literature foundation and scientific background necessary to appreciate the research we were conducting. From this, I have not only learned a great deal about how to conduct research at the graduate level, but I have also learned more about myself. By meeting weekly with a current MD/Ph.D. student and frequently interacting with current researchers, I have explored the medical field and it is from this experience that I know pursuing both medicine and research as a career is the right choice.

Capanna (front row, second from left) and fellow Gateways researchers

Research has also allowed me to explore the world on an international setting. Currently, I am conducting public health research in Jamaica as a part of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s MHIRT or Minority Health International Research Training program. MHIRT programs are similar to REU programs, in that they are government funded and are present at a variety of different institutions. However, the number of MHIRT programs are far less, but offer very unique opportunities to do research internationally, anywhere from Africa to Thailand.

Capanna interviews a man in Montego Bay, Jamaica

Through the MHIRT program I am conducting prostate cancer education research on the patients of local Jamaican hospitals and rural clinics. My research consists of interviewing 600 western Jamaican men to ascertain what current knowledge these men possess and furthermore, providing them with resources and knowledge by hosting continual prostate cancer education sessions. Conducting research globally has opened my eyes to the many perks we as American college students have, especially in regards to research. Both from speaking to patients here and the various Europeans whom I’ve met by living at a hostel, everyone tells me of how there are no such opportunities for research in their countries!

Capanna offers an educational presentation as part of his MHIRT research

Though my words or pictures will never be able to summarize just how great of an impact research has had on my undergraduate career, I do hope I have been able to convey just how vast and numerous research opportunities can be. The few programs I have described are only a short sample of what is possible for many undergraduates who have the desire to conduct research and I am sure it can augment your undergraduate career just as much as it has mine.