AlanaWe interviewed fifth year Tumor Biology MD/PhD student, Alana Lelo about her extensive lab experience and time at Georgetown University, as well as her future goals after graduation.  

What kind of work and/or schooling are you currently involved in? 
Hi! My name is Alana, and I am a fifth year MD/PhD student here at Georgetown.  I matriculated into the program in June 2012 and am just starting my third year in the Tumor Biology program.  I am conducting my thesis research in the lab of Dr. Todd Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., where I am studying the role of the STAG2 tumor suppressor in bladder cancer. Recently, I have established a multi-institute collaboration in order to continue expanding my study.  I am also at the bench, performing mechanistic studies to further elucidate the role STAG2 has in bladder cancer.

Why did you decide to study at Georgetown?
I came to Georgetown because of the strength of their research programs and the excellent clinical training Georgetown offers.  The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated center in DC and is home to a number of diverse research programs. The Tumor Biology program is multi-faceted, interdisciplinary and integrates both clinical and basic science research. The faculty is also extremely devoted to the success of the students in the program.  The atmosphere created at Georgetown is simply conducive to success.

What advice would you give current or prospective students looking to get into your line of work?
If you think you are interested in pursuing research, get in the lab right away!  The best way to figure out of this sort of work is for you, is to just go out there and do it.  Many academic labs will take on undergraduates to help them gain exposure to the field.   When I was an undergrad at NYU, I spent two summers interning in the translational research department at a pharmaceutical company that designed anti-cancer drugs. During the school year, I worked in two different HIV labs, working on two totally different projects.  Since I was already really interested clinical medicine, I also volunteered in an ER and Anesthesia Unit. The opportunities are there- you just have to look! By the time I graduated college, I knew science was for me, but I wanted to make sure cancer biology was my main interest.  I spent two years working full time in a lab devoted to cancer research. Working full time let me see the whole process of science play out and most importantly, I had to tough out the less enjoyable moments of science- failed experiments, writing (oh the writing!), and late nights in the lab.  I realized that even through the tougher days, I still always loved what I did and looked forward to being in the lab.  So get out there, find a mentor and a lab, and start experimenting! 

What would you like to achieve (career or otherwise) in the future? 
My overall career goal is to become a physician-scientist conducting patient-oriented, translational research in the areas of pediatric tumor biology. After graduating from the MD/PhD program here at Georgetown, I plan to enter a residency program in Internal Medicine and then do a fellowship in pediatric oncology and hematology.  I envision myself thriving in an academic medical setting, engaging in clinical activities, while leading research efforts in the lab. My varied research and clinical experiences thus far have helped refine my career ambitions, providing me with specific expertise to perform aspects of translational research. If, along the way, I added more puppies to my zoo crew of two, I wouldn't be mad.