Talking Real Science with Jared Oenick
This episode of Share Science features Jared Oenick, a senior at the University of North Georgia, and one of 10 students who were recently awarded the Scientist.com Stem Research NIL award for promising undergraduate researchers. This award is part of Scientist.com’s commitment to support and mentor students who are at the beginnings of their STEM education and careers. In addition to a grant of $5000 each, the 10 award winners are collaborating with Scientist.com as brand ambassadors.
Scientist.com empowers and connects scientists worldwide and accelerates scientific discovery with their digital research marketplaces, combining sophisticated AI technology with white glove research concierge support to enable scientists to run more innovative experiments in less time and at a lower cost.
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Where did you grow up and have you always been interested in the sciences?
So I grew up in Newnan, Georgia, which is a small town about 45 minutes south of Atlanta. I actually grew up in a sort of a medical environment because of my own health conditions, but also because my father is an emergency medicine physician assistant. In terms of research, I actually didn’t really know I was interested in research, or medical research for that matter, until my freshman year at the University of North Georgia, which is when I really started exploring avenues of research.
Where and what are you currently studying? Could you tell us a little bit your research?
Absolutely. So I am here still at the University of North Georgia. I’m in my senior year, majoring in biology with a minor in neuroscience. My research is actually centered around the bacteriophage, or phage for short, and how to better isolate these phages from the environment. These viruses are really cool because they target and kill specific species of bacteria, and only those bacteria, which can be extremely robust and resistant to multiple antibiotics. Phages are still able to eliminate these bacteria without difficulty, so we’re hoping down the line that these will have medicinal or therapeutic uses.
Has there been a mentor or professor that’s played a significant role in your academic career thus far?
I am really inspired by the life and story of the late Dr. Thomas Starzl and his memoir, The Puzzle People, which basically just documents the obstacles and successes of past medical giants in the field of transplant medicine. My current mentors are Dr. Allison Cannon and Dr. Ryan Shanks here at the University of North Georgia who both continue to push me to be the best that I can be, both inside and outside the laboratory. My family also plays a big role in my success, especially my dad.
You’ve mentioned that your passion for medicine and research, specifically relating to the kidney, stems from your own personal experience of undergoing dialysis due to failing kidney transplant. Can you tell us about how this experience impacted the trajectory of your career thus far?
Absolutely. I had my first kidney transplant back in 2007 due to kidney failure stemming from a genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease. My dad was actually the donor just before entering my freshman year of undergrad. However, chronic rejection of that organ really began to set in and I eventually had to start hemodialysis.
“I knew I wanted to go into the medical field at that time, but I really wasn’t sure what specialty until this event came about. Something about seeing all these patients sort of hooked up to these [dialysis] machines for hours at a time, seemed sort of archaic.”
It reminded me of textbook pictures and photos of rooms filled with people hooked up to iron lungs during the height of the polio outbreak during the late forties and early fifties. I thought to myself, while these machines are incredible at keeping people alive, you sort of wonder why we don’t have an unrestricted supply of kidneys yet, for those who need them or at the very least to have a more favorable alternative with less risk. This is sort of what drove my interest in kidney medicine and kidney transplant research.”
In what direction do you intend on taking your career in the future?
So I am currently in the process of applying to medical schools, and I think I would like to work in a lab that specializes in xenotransplantation research while also practicing as a clinical transplant nephrologist.
Do you have any advice for younger students interested in getting into research who might be intimidated or not know where to begin?
Number one, don’t be afraid to ask professors about their own research, especially if you may be interested in it. Number two, don’t be afraid to ask professors if you can help with said research. Finally, number three, probably the most important and sort of most scary, don’t be afraid to say you’re no longer interested in working at a certain lab if you feel it is not a fit for you. The lab I currently work in was not the first lab I assisted in, it was actually the second, so don’t be afraid.