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The Apprentices

The scientist: Yolanda Sanchez, Ph.D. (right)
Her title: Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Joined the faculty: 2006

What qualities do you look for in undergrads for your lab?
Drive, curiosity, and maturity.

What are the benefits of having undergrads in your lab?
I really enjoy undergraduates. Training them is an important part of our jobs—we're recruiting the next generation of scientists. It's fun to see how they view the world—they're blank slates, full of ideas, and not cynical, which is nice. One of the most appealing things to me about coming to DMS was that there were mechanisms for undergraduates to pursue research.

Did you work in a lab when you were an undergrad?
I did an honors thesis at the University of Texas at El Paso. I had an undergraduate fellowship to look at small organelles in water molds that were a nuisance for ponds.

What are the challenges of having undergrads in your lab?
It takes time to train them, but it's one of the most rewarding things we do.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I think that working in research labs is a very important formative experience for students interested in pursuing a career in science. We need more young people to join the scientific community. If nothing else, as voters, they'll be more informed about where money for research is going.

The student: Rachael Labitt '11 (left)
Major and minor: Biology and Chinese
Hometown: Nashua, N.H.
Joined the Sanchez lab: Fall 2007

What are your career goals?
I'd like to take a few years off after graduating and then apply to veterinary school.

What got you interested in science?
I've always been fascinated with living things—amazed by their complexity and by the fact that despite the myriad layers of complexity everything manages to work the way it's supposed to.

What drew you to the Sanchez lab?
I wanted to get experience in a laboratory

setting. I had never worked in a real lab. I found out about the position through Jobnet, which I guess you could say is Dartmouth's online classifieds. Then I looked at the lab's website, and although I could barely understand any of it, it looked cool and the people looked happy.

What's the most exciting aspect of the research process?
When things work. I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks, when we will start looking at mouse tissues to see what effect the genes have on the embryo's development.

What is the most difficult part of doing research as a student?
It takes up a lot of time. Also, you realize you don't really know much of anything, though that could be seen as a good thing, too. There's always more to know, and you can never know everything. But if you don't know things, you can always learn. And as any institution of learning would tell you, learning is not a bad thing.

What is the quality you most admire in people?

What about you surprises others?
I've lived in New Hampshire my whole life but have never been to Canada.

What are your interests outside of school and work?

I'm interested in dance. I did ballet and modern dance in high school. I also volunteer at a vet clinic on weekends, I started taking horseback riding lessons, and when the weather is warm I help out at the Dartmouth organic farm.

What kind of music is on your iPod (or CD player) right now?
A mix of things—Nirvana, Enya, Beatles, Bare Naked Ladies, piano music, Toad the Wet Sprocket (a great name), some Chinese classical music, and the Lion King soundtrack.

Finish this sentence: If I had more time I would . . .
Take dance classes. Draw. And read and learn things other than for my classes.

The laboratory: Sanchez has had "at least four" undergrads in her lab since coming to Dartmouth. She studies signaling pathways that regulate cell division, DNA repair, and cell death and their role in the origin and treatment of cancer. Labitt is investigating a protein that may be the Achilles heel of cells in the process of becoming cancerous. She is looking at a kinase (an enzyme) called Chk1 that stops cell division when DNA is damaged; some people have a mutation in Chk1. Part of her work involves "preparing and staining many, many slides to see if we can determine what exact effect the mutant Chk1 has" on cells.

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