Ed Walczak (COL ’14) hit the ground running on his research career as soon as he began attending Georgetown. As part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ed started working in an immunology lab during his freshman year. However, he found his passion during his sophomore spring semester, when he began working in the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center for Dr. Richard Schlegal’s lab, which is recognized worldwide as the developer of the HPV vaccine.
Ed currently works in the study of conditionally programming cells with the goal of streamlining the cancer treatment process through creating personalized medicine. The lab recently published their research in the New England Journal of Medicine, explaining the process of taking cells from an individual cancer patient, growing them continuously in the lab, and determining which chemical treatment combination works best for that patient. The labor-intensive process of working with Conditional Reprogrammed Cells (CRCs) is still in the early-stages of development.
As the only student researcher in the lab, Ed devotes a large amount of his time to research. He is a senior double majoring in Biology of Global Health and Economics and currently takes three classes. Additionally, he is enrolled in a research tutorial, which allows students to receive class credit for research during the semester. He plans to work in the National Institute of Health intramural research training program next year, before he attends a joint MD/PhD program. Ed advises any students interested in research to start early and find a project that really interests them, just as he has done with Dr. Schlegal’s lab.
“I love doing research,” said Ed. “I get a kick out of it. It’s something that I want to base my career on.”
He also highly recommends applying to the Howard Hughes Institute or a similar program, as it greatly helped him with career advice and provided the structure of getting on track to do research. He believes that you should only do research if you are truly interested in your project. He stressed that failure is an integral part of the process, so that you must be really attached to your project to bear the disappointments and continue on the track.
“You need to be comfortable advocating for yourself when things don’t work,” said Ed. “Mistakes and failures in experiments can be the single most important thing you ever do. Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face because that’s how you will learn.”
To learn more about the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, please visit: www.hhmi.org