How One Ask Led to an Opportunity in National Institutes of Health Fellowship

Authored By: Mamisoa Knutson 04/29/2019

Lis PearsonWhen not attending classes, Lis Pearson, a senior at the University of Minnesota Rochester, is a Special Research Student (SRS) in Mayo Clinic’s lab studying Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Her interest and research in PKD started last summer when she participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program for ten weeks with Mayo Clinic researchers. SURF allows aspiring health care professionals to conduct their own research projects, develop technical skills and participate in weekly seminars to learn more about progressive research areas, all under the guidance of a Mayo Clinic supervisor.

Last summer, Pearson had an opportunity to attend a conference at Harvard University. While there, she attended a presentation by Dr. Gregory G. Germino, M.D. from the National Institutes of Health about the importance of nephrologists to participate in up and coming research. Pearson, whose interest and research was in PKD, approached Dr. Germino following his presentation to introduce herself and ask if he had an opening in his lab for her to do research.

“In the moment, I was extremely nervous,” says Pearson, “However, I told myself that the worst he could say is ‘no,’ or ‘I'm not interested right now’ and if that were to happen, then I would never see him again. With all of this in mind, I decided to take a chance and see what would happen.” Pearson exchanged contacts with Dr. Germino and Pearson returned to Rochester.

During her fall semester, Pearson studied abroad in Madrid, Spain as part of her capstone experience. While there, she set Dr. Germino set up an interview with her and his team of five other post-doctoral researchers. Through video conference, she presented her current research and her goals for the future. Several weeks later, Dr. Germino contacted Pearson to congratulate her. Though he didn’t have any openings for her in his lab, Dr. Germino was impressed with Pearson, her research and her work ethic. Because of the lasting impression Pearson left on Dr. Germino, he applied to have a post-bac position allowing Pearson to join his team for a two-year fellowship. 

Pearson’s new lab experience is located on the NIH Campus, within the NIH Clinical Center, the largest U.S. hospital solely dedicated to medical research. This lab is one of the largest biomedical centers in the world. Dr. Germino states, “While my laboratory is focused on both a basic science (how is tubule diameter regulated) and a clinical problem (polycystic kidney disease), we work with other laboratories that have diverse interests. Nearby, there are physicians engaged in clinical, patient-oriented research and Ph.D. investigators interested in the most basic and fundamental scientific questions. There are groups interested in science policies, biomedical ethics, implementation science and global health care issues. There are innumerable lecture series that cover the gamut, and Ms. Pearson will have the opportunity to participate and learn.

Pearson hopes that this two-year fellowship from the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Germino will give her the opportunity to continue research in a field she is passionate about under the guidance of Dr. Germino. She also hopes to garner confidence in her research abilities and gain a deeper understanding of physiological processes in the body.

“This opportunity will allow me to further understand how science and research works, to collaborate with other skilled researchers and open up new opportunities for me when I apply to   MD-PhD programs,” says Pearson.

After graduating from UMR this spring, Pearson will participate in this fellowship with National Institutes of Health for two years and then pursue an MD-PhD degree focusing on rare genetic diseases in pediatrics. Her inspiration in this research stems from two of her close friends being diagnosed with rare genetic diseases.

“It’s a specialized field,” says Pearson, “but I want to be able to help alleviate the pain of those who think that no one is fighting for them.”