Doctoral candidate Celine Atkinson completes first-ever internship in USF Genomics Program

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March 22-25 is Medical Genetics Awareness Week

The USF genomics program managed within the USF College of Public Health (COPH) is a consortium of active research programs from across the USF System united by the goal of harnessing the immense power of genomics research to develop innovative solutions to complex problems from health to ecology.

Celine Atkinson, MS. (Photo courtesy of Atkinson)

To help graduate students applying genomics in their dissertation research, the genomics program initiated an internship program to refine their lab skills and gain a competitive edge in an increasingly tougher job market.

Meet USF’s first genomics program intern

The first intern of the USF genomics program’s sequencing core was Celine Atkinson, who is a USF cell biology PhD student studying the gut microbiome. She spent one summer interning with the COPH’s Dr. Min Zhang, a sequencing expert, and Matt Mercurio, a research scientist in the sequencing core.

Gut microbiomes are micro-organisms that live in the intestines and can affect our health in many ways. “While I was always interested in science, it wasn’t until I got to college that I really saw myself having a full-fledged career in the field,” said Atkinson, who graduated from USF in 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a minor in American Sign Language. She continued her studies a year later with a master’s degree in biology with a concentration in microbiology.

Since 2021, Atkinson has been a PhD student in the College of Arts and Sciences, working in the lab of Morsani College of Medicine’s Dr. Larry Dishaw, conducting research on the gut microbiome, phage biology (the study of viruses that infect bacteria) and microbial ecology (the study of the interaction of micro-organisms with their environment).

Life during—and after—a genomics internship

During her internship with the genomics core, Atkinson learned to perform and troubleshoot RNA sequencing applications (done to reveal the presence and quantity of gene-specific RNAs, a molecule similar to DNA, in a biological sample) and single-cell sequencing. She also took part in a metagenomics workshop designed to teach biologists how to perform their own data analysis. The computational skills Atkinson learned via the internship and workshop are highly sought after in the STEM field.

Celine Atkinson, left, reading through her notes. (Photo courtesy of Atkinson)

“This summer, with the metagenomics workshop and the core internship, I feel like everything is coming full circle,” she said. “Before this internship, I was leaning toward a career in academia. But after this internship, my pathways have expanded to include using my research skills in industry.”

Story by Desiree Lara, USF genomics program

Edited by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health