Jennifer G.

Altoona, Wisconsin

I hated science with a passion. Every time I walked in to a science class, I asked myself who really needs to know all these details on elements, physics, and photosynthesis. Science bored me to death. I would have rather been doing anything else—reading books for English class, singing in choir, playing my flute, even doing algebra.

Then came sophomore year—biology. I figured this class would be just like every other science class I had: required, tedious, and uninteresting. My teacher, Mr. Lenz, was passionate about science, biology in particular. When he started lecturing us on the promise of knowledge that biology holds, I sat up and took notice. Before I knew it, I was asking questions and wondering what would happen if variables changed in a process and how those outcomes would differ. During our unit on genetics, I realized that I loved it. The modern aspect of the research and the small changes that can make a huge difference thrilled me like no subject ever had. Mr. Lenz recognized my interest and introduced me to a former student of his who was studying genetics at UW-Madison, and I shadowed her for a day to learn more about the field. I even checked out a textbook for the summer to reread the sections on genetics—something I had never dreamed I would do willingly.

One year later, a friend recommended a new book to me: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. As I read about the wonders of HeLa cells, I fell in love with the idea of DNA research. The contribution of HeLa cells to the field of genetics was emphasized in one part of the book, and it made me want to become part of that ongoing research. I want to develop cures and save lives, just like the scientists mentioned in Skloot's book are doing with HeLa cells. Recognition of Henrietta's contribution to science wasn't something that came easily to the Lacks family, and that surprised me. Before reading the book, I hadn't realized tissue research was so controversial. Times have changed since Henrietta's cells were taken in 1951, but there is still an ongoing debate of a patient's right to their blood and tissues. The Lacks' story makes me want to help protect patients involved in the process.

Genetics is a fascinating field of study that is continually being modified by new discoveries. With all the controversy in the field, such as stem cell research, I know that I can use my interpersonal skills to ease conflict between patients and researchers. After realizing my passion for genetics in sophomore biology and solidifying my interest by reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I have declared Human/Medical Genetics as my undergraduate major. Someday, I hope to write a book about my findings in genetics that invokes as much excitement for the field as Skloot's work did for me.