Bioethics Blogs

Lessons from a High School Student: Motivation + Perseverance = Success

It may surprise you to learn that the poised young woman featured in this video was a sophomore in high school at the time the film was made. Today, Emily Ashkin is a high school senior with impressive laboratory experience and science awards to her name.  As it happens, she’s also introducing me when I deliver a keynote address at the Melanoma Research Alliance’s annual scientific meeting — today, here in Washington, D.C.

What struck me most when I heard Emily’s story was her fearlessness. When mentoring young students, helping some to believe in themselves can be a real challenge. Not Emily. She faces her challenges by seeking solutions, asking—as she does in the video—“Why can’t that be me?”

In the video, Emily talks about getting inspired to channel her interests in science toward work on cancer.  Picking up where the video leaves off, Emily continued as a volunteer in the lab of Pinku Mukherjee at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She switched from breast to pancreatic cancer and began studying MUC1, a glycoprotein tethered to the outer surface of the cell. MUC1 is overexpressed in about 60 percent of pancreatic cancers, a disease associated with an almost uniformly poor prognosis.

She entered the 2014 North Carolina International Science Challenge with a project involving MUC1. Emily used the glycoprotein as a biomarker to show that a common secreted signaling protein called TGF-β1 had switched from a growth inhibitor to a tumor promoter in pancreatic cancer. Her research earned a trip to China to represent the United States in the annual, international Beijing Student Science Competition.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.