Joanna Kettlewell: Characterization of HIV-1 Integrase

School: Virginia Commonwealth University

PI: Allison Johnson

Department: Center for the Study of Biological Complexity

Project: Characterization of HIV-1 Integrase

What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to participate in Undergraduate Research? I wanted to build on skills I had learned in the classroom as well as learn how to design and carry out an independent research project, to submit a research proposal, design experiments, keep a laboratory notebook, troubleshoot, to create a scientific poster, and to write a scientific paper.

Did you register for academic credit? Participate in a research program? Or Volunteer? I began working over the summer as a paid student researcher.  To continue the project I had begun, I participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities program (UROP) which required writing a research proposal with my mentor.  Following this program, I registered for academic credit to pursue an Honors in Biology distinction which included laboratory credits and the requirement to write a senior thesis on my research.

How did you find your mentor? My mentor was a professor for an introductory laboratory course sponsored by HHMI entitled, “Phage Lab,” in which students isolated and sequenced and bacteriophage from soil.  The laboratory contained a wet-bench semester and a bioinformatics semester. After the course, I expressed interest in getting more involved in research and was invited to work for her on her HIV-1 integrase project.

For you, what were the benefits of a research experience? I benefited from my research experience by becoming comfortable with science terminology and learning to use a variety of laboratory equipment and techniques.  I gained a larger ability to think critically when encountering inconsistent data and issues with experiments.  I learned how to create experiments independently and to maintain a laboratory notebook.  With the help of my mentor, I learned how to properly present my scientific data and findings with the proper writing structure and figures by creating a scientific poster for the Undergraduate Research Symposium and for a thesis paper used to obtain my Honors in Biology distinction.  Without this experience, I would not have had the confidence and abilities in a laboratory setting to obtain a position working for the state public health laboratory.

What would you say to a student who is considering Undergraduate Research? Do it! Explore the opportunities offered to you outside of the classroom.  Many professors are not only willing to take you on in their laboratory but are excited to share their love of science and research with undergraduate students.  You will gain a set of skills that you cannot obtain in the classroom and most importantly, you will find out if research is something you would like to pursue in the future.

At what point in your studies did you start your research experience? I started my research experience as a rising junior. 

Please also provide a short bio below (include a brief description of your career goals) I fell into research by exploring my interests.  I was introduced to the “Phage Lab” course by an advertisement by my general biology professor who taught the course.  I was considering medicine and infectious disease was an area that sparked my interest.  I thought the class was a perfect way to delve into this because it was about viruses that infect bacteria and the implications for treatment of patients with mycobacterium tuberculosis.  I thoroughly enjoyed the course and subsequently participated in HIV-1 integrase research with one of the professors.  I continued to explore other interests in medicine and laboratory science including employment post-graduation in Food Microbiology and Enteric Microbiology at the Division for Consolidated Laboratory Services more commonly known as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s public health laboratory.  I have decided to pursue a doctorate degree with the focus of infectious disease and immunology.  I joined the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine in their Tropical Medicine Ph.D. programs  Fall of 2015.



2016-2019 Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowship


2016-2019 Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowship

sea grant phd photo

Deadline: November 13, 2015

Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) is pleased to announce the availability of graduate research fellowships for the 2016-2019 academic years (June 1, 2016 through May 31, 2019). The fellowship is open to graduate students at any Virginia academic institution who are engaged in coastal and marine research in any discipline relevant to Virginia and the VASG strategic plan.  In addition to supporting the student’s academic expenses, the fellowship will provide additional professional development opportunities throughout its duration, focusing on science communication, science-to-management process, and other Sea Grant activities and mission priorities. VASG advances the resilience and sustainability of Virginia’s coastal and marine ecosystems and the communities that depend upon them. As a broker of scientific information, VASG works with resource managers, businesses, communities, and other stakeholders to provide and apply the best science available.  Please see attached announcement for details.  This information can also be found at:

An information session is scheduled at each of VASG’s partner institutions to provide additional details and answer student questions:

  • Sept. 18: Old Dominion University
  • Sept 24: Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Sept 28: Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Sept 30: Virginia Tech
  • Oct 5: George Mason University
  • Oct 9: University of Virginia

Separate information session invitations will be sent out with details, or contact me for more information.

VASG will also be releasing announcements for the Knauss Marine Policy, NMFS-Sea Grant Population & Ecosystem Dynamics, NMFS-Sea Grant Marine Resource Economics, and NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship competitions in the fall.

I hope you will circulate this announcement broadly to students and faculty who may be interested.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


Susan Park

Associate Director

Virginia Sea Grant

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

College of William and Mary

P.O. Box 1346 (regular mail)

1375 Greate Road (shipping)

Gloucester Point, VA 23062


Phone: 804-684-7436

Fax: 804-684-7269

International Student Volunteer (ISV) meeting

See the message below from a representative from ISV:

My name is Nina with International Student Volunteers (ISV), which is a non-profit that organizes life-changing volunteer abroad programs for university students. This summer we have 4-week programs in 6 countries — Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Thailand.

During the first two weeks, our students do 80 hours of volunteer work in either Conservation — where they can work in rainforest regeneration or endangered species management with elephants, dolphins, cheetahs and sea turtles — or in Social Community Development — doing educational programs with children, building schools and houses and basic health care projects.

During the second two weeks, students will travel all throughout their host country, getting immersed into the culture and exploring its natural wonders. They will also get to do exciting adventure activities like white water rafting, zip lining, surfing, cave exploring, going on wildlife safaris and MUCH more!

This program is a wonderful way to get out of the classroom and have some hands-on educational experiences — throughout the four weeks, students will be learning all about the communities, ecosystems and animals with which they are interacting! Furthermore, it gives students an opportunity to do something meaningful with their summer while exploring another culture and country.

We will be having information meetings about these programs this Thursday, September 3rd from 9am to 5pm starting every hour in the Jefferson Hotel – Flemish Room. (101 W Franklin St. – 4blocks from Monroe Park – ask for the Flemish Room at reception) If students can not attend the information meeting, they can email me to get more information.


Nina Matsushima

Campus Staff

International Student Volunteers, Inc.

Office: (714) 779 7392