Sarah Robbins

Honors student Sarah Robbins is a full time junior at the University of Connecticut. She has conducted research with UConn’s pathobiology department on infectious diseases and viral vectors. Robbins is also an Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) peer research ambassador, and she talks to undergraduate students about her lab experiences. A Manchester resident, Robbins enjoys traveling, running, hiking and the outdoors. Here is what she said about her experiences as a CAHNR student.

What attracted you to UConn? The research opportunities and the pathobiology department were both huge factors in attracting me to UConn. There aren’t very many colleges that have a department focused specifically on infectious diseases. Additionally, there is ample support and resources for student research.

What is your major, and why did you choose it? I am a dual major in pathobiology and molecular and cell biology. I chose these majors because I want to focus on research in the fields of genetics and viruses. I’m interested in the generation of recombinant vaccinia viruses for use as viral vectors to develop vaccines for both humans and animals.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? I took part in a Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) grant project last summer. I designed and synthesized clinically relevant tetracycline-inducible vaccinia viruses for vaccine development. I started off using computer software to design the transfer plasmids used to generate the genetically modified virus strains, which I am now in the process of purifying. I modify the genetic material inside the virus and insert the desired genes necessary for my work.

This project has had a great impact on my undergraduate experience. It has helped develop my independence as a student researcher and shaped what I want to do in my future education and career.

Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. My job in the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory as a student lab technician was a stepping stone towards my research. It helped me get involved in lab work. I started in the spring of my freshman year, and I helped to culture Salmonella samples in chicken organs and check for bacterial infections in cow milk. I also did work in parasitology and identification of parasite eggs.

I recently became a peer research ambassador for OUR. I talk to undergraduates about my own research, the process of finding a professor to work with and the lab experience.

Research has been such a huge part of my academic progress. There are so many opportunities here at UConn for different paths, and I feel like you can do anything that makes you happy. I wanted to share my passion with others.

What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? I had a difficult time deciding on my academic path. I bounced around from pre-med to law school to the graduate school track. I am fortunate enough to have a great support system of advisers and professors to help guide me and my interests.

When do you expect to graduate? What then? I expect to graduate in May 2018. I’m still not completely set on anything. I have considered applying to graduate school to get a PhD in virology. I have also considered going into law for pharmaceutical patents. Right now, I’m not 100% sure. I might be involved in both career paths.

Ultimately, I would like to work with vaccine development and virus applications.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? When you’re in the lab, you’re supposed to wash your hands often and say the ABC’s while you do it in order to wash thoroughly. I’ve done it so often that I’ve trained myself to sing the alphabet backwards.

By Marlese Lessing