Michelle Scuzzarella ’21: Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation

Name: Michelle Scuzzarella
Class Year: Rising Junior
Major: Biology
Hometown: Lynn, Mass.

Internship Organization: Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation
Job Title: Research Intern
Location: Pittsburgh

What’s happening at your internship?

The Yanowitz lab focuses on the field of reproductive biology and uses Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism to conduct this work. I’m currently working on two projects relating to the process of meiosis. One project has to do with a mutation in a protein that normally creates double-strand breaks in chromosomes that are needed for cross-over events. Without a cross-over event, the chromosomes are not able to segregate properly into their sperm or egg cells, which means that these cells are unable to create viable offspring. However there sometimes appear to be cross-over events in these mutants, so I’m testing to see what may be causing these apparent cross-over events to occur. In another smaller project, I’m trying to determine when a protein, which is important in the process of meiosis, is produced during the life cycle of C. elegans.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied for this internship because I have a love for biology. After taking biology courses throughout my academic career, I was beyond ready to be in a position where I would be doing real biology. Working in a lab setting would be the perfect thing to do to exercise some of the skills I’ve already learned in lab courses, while also gaining so many new skills and a ton of invaluable experience. On top of all of this, I would be working on a project that could possibly have real world applications one day. I think most STEM majors dream of the day that the things they learn and put work into actually have real world applications — I know I do.

Living in a new city? What has that experience been like for you?

This experience has definitely had its ups and downs, but so far, it’s been a great experience. It’s been difficult to be away from my friends and some of my favorite places at home for the summer, but I think this experience will be worth it. It has also been very difficult living in a completely new city, but I’ve had a lot of help getting to know the city from a fellow Bryn Mawr student and her family. This experience has also led to me becoming much more independent and it has helped me learn how to navigate a big city. I’ve really enjoyed this experience so far because it has helped me see what I’m capable of.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?

I think that the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far has been working with the C. elegans. C. elegans are microscopic nematodes that can just barely be seen at their largest without a microscope. In order to move the worms to their desired destination, we have to look through a microscope and use an instrument called a pick to pick them up and leave them where they’re needed. When I first started out, the worms more often than not did not safely make it to their destination. I’ve also had to learn how to dissect the worms, and believe me, that’s just as hard as it sounds. While looking under a microscope, I have to use a small and very sharp needle to cut the worms in a specific spot so that we can expose and examine their germline under a special type of microscope. Thanks to my clumsy nature and shaky hands, working with C. elegans has been incredibly tedious and exhausting, but also a fantastic exercise in patience.