Xavier University of Louisiana student Kirk McCall might seem like your average college student: energetic, full of potential, and harboring big dreams for the future. But Kirk is also working on sophisticated one-of-a-kind science experiments during his four-summer internship program at Sanford-Burnham and has accumulated lab experience years ahead of most of his peers.
When we met in the Sanford-Burnham cafeteria at Lake Nona, Kirk had just taken a break from running an afternoon experiment. He was eager to talk to me about his experience in the United Negro College Fund STEM Pipeline Program – a program designed to increase the pipeline of African-Americans and other under-represented minorities in STEM careers by partnering with sponsors for scholarships and internship experiences. Here’s my interview with him:
Tell me a little about yourself, what are you currently studying and what do you like to do for fun?
I’m going into my junior year starting next semester. I’m studying biology/pre-med and minoring in chemistry and music. In my free time, I like to play my saxophone which ties in with my minor. I like to read, play basketball, and hang out with my friends. I try to have a good balance!
Where do you see yourself after college?
Ideally, going to medical school. That’s the goal. After my four years there, residency and a specialization. Currently, I’m not sure what I want to do in medicine because there’s so much and the field is moving so fast. As of now, I’m pretty sure I want to do something in the field of surgery.
Applying to med school can be exciting! Which school are you applying for?
I have 10 schools on my short list. I’ve got to apply to as many as possible because you never know. My number one school is Johns Hopskins University, the medical school is fantastic and has everything that I want. That may be a stretch because it’s so competitive. I’m definitively going to shoot for it.
What are you working on at Sanford-Burnham now?
I’m working in Dr. Layton Smith’s lab. I started last summer [summer 2013], and was just getting used to everything, getting my feet wet. Currently, I do most of my work in the biology lab with lab manager Danielle McAnally. I’m working on a heart-failure study and dealing with different proteins. We’re trying to determine what apelin can do within a cardiovascular context to see if it can lower blood pressure or help with heart rate. There are definitely a lot of applications with diabetes. It’s definitely relevant research, which is why I love being at Sanford-Burnham.
Now that you’re spending time in the lab, has anything surprised you about scientific research work?
Everyone knows what they’re doing, everybody goes about it systematically – it’s not like a college-laboratory setting where you’re really confused about what you’re doing and you have 30 people working on one assignment. You come in, you check things off your list and by the end of the week you have data to present the following Monday.
What would you say to other students interested in pursuing a STEM career?
The best thing is to get first-hand exposure. I think getting an internship like the one I have or volunteering at a hospital – do something in the field that you think you’re interested in to see if it’s a good fit. You don’t want to go through all the schooling and get to med school and realize you hate it.