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High School Cancer Reserach with Polygence Mentor Selena

3 minute read

Selena is a PhD student studying brain tumor immunotherapy at Duke University. Since April this year, she’s been mentoring with Polygence, a gig she’s found to be absolutely invaluable. Thus, just how the program has been an amazing experience for her, Selena aims to do the same for her students. Through providing a comfortable and creative environment for them, she hopes that they can reach new heights!

While Selena’s job is to help students work their brain muscles, her research doesn’t stop there. In the lab, she studies how brain tumors impact the entire immune system. Having such knowledge will allow her to strengthen a weakened immune system, so it can be better at fighting off cancer. Although immunotherapy isn’t the most effective treatment for brain tumors themselves, Selena’s work aims to understand exactly why that is. In her eyes, that’s the path to creating solutions that are.

Of course, the answer can’t be solved by one scientist alone. That’s why Selena enjoys helping young scientists jump start their careers. Even more so, she admires their curiosity, creativity, and determination to pursue their academic interests. For her, it’s energizing to see young scholars excitedly engage with their material and the world around them. So far, Selena has two ambitious Polygencers by her side. One is currently researching the use of a modified form of the poliovirus to treat the aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma, through writing a review paper. The other is writing a paper on her interest in drug delivery in cancer. And as prep for college research, Selena also helps this student explore topics studied by professors with whom she’s interested in working.

The most rewarding part of the mentoring process for Selena is seeing her students take ownership over their own projects. The immunologist says, “I have really enjoyed seeing my students develop the confidence to take point in our meetings, and to learn that they can share their thoughts and ideas without the fear of being 'wrong'.” She also confesses that she was very impressed by how thoughtful her mentees were when it came to their projects. “They had clearly put the time in to think about why they want to study a particular topic and what they want to create.” That’s one of the reasons why Selena deems it important for students to be in a comfortable, discussion-based atmosphere as she’s found that’s when they truly flourish.

On a day off, you can find Selena teaching spin class, in the gym, cooking, reading, or attempting to keep her balcony garden alive. Otherwise, she’ll be in the lab picking at brains, along with raving about Polygence to any of the colleagues she thinks would be an excellent mentor. Before mentoring at Polygence, Selena was afraid that she’d be stressed trying to balance her life with her student’s studies (and not to mention her own), but she found that this experience has been nothing short of phenomenal. “It's genuinely been a very high reward, low stress, low time commitment position!” she proclaims wholeheartedly.

Clearly, Selena would urge someone to accept a position at Polygence, but as for the actual mentoring part? Her biggest piece of advice for other mentors is: ask students as many questions as possible. To explain further, she says, “Of course there are times you will need to explain concepts to students but overall, it's helpful to ask thoughtful questions to encourage your students to find their voice.”

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