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.