SFU Undergrad Researcher: Andy Zeng

Introducing Andy Zeng of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Andy Zeng
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year of Study: Fourth
Supervisors: Angela Brooks Wilson (Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer Agency and SFU BPK) and Benjamin Kwok (Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Université de Montreal)


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: A clinician-scientist! I would ideally see cancer patients 1-2 days/week and spend the rest of my time running a cancer research lab to improve our standard of care. This fall, I’ll be entering the MD/PhD program at the University of Toronto for my first 8 years of training towards that career!

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: In first year undergrad, I applied to a bunch of profs to do a summer undergraduate student research award (USRA) with them. Most profs didn’t take me seriously as a first year and didn’t respond, but Angie pretty much offered me a pity interview because it would make for a good learning opportunity. It turned out that I was the only applicant to read her papers before the interview and ask her semi-intelligent questions about it, and that’s how I got the USRA! I used that experience to land an internship in Montreal the following summer, and then finished my thesis in third year summer.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I’ll be spending the first half of my summer in Vancouver, brushing up on statistics and bioinformatics and learning the basics of machine learning through online courses (datacamp, coursera, EdX, etc). For the second half of my summer in Toronto, I’ll hopefully be getting involved in research on cancer stem cells and getting started on my PhD research.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: In Angie’s lab at BC Cancer I analyzed the somatic mutational spectrums in mitochondrial DNA (yes, the powerhouse of the cell) of B-Cell Lymphoma patients. We wanted to see if any of these mutations, which affect cell metabolism, contributed to lymphomagenesis. In Ben’s lab at IRIC I designed and ran cell biology experiments testing chemical inhibitors of a cancer-promoting protein on cancer cells.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: MBB426 & 427- The workload for 426 is soul crushing but you walk out of the courses knowing a mind-blowing amount of immunology! But to be honest, I believe that the most enriching learning experiences during undergrad comes from extracurriculars and research.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: Haemolytic Memes for Anaemic Teens (Facebook Page) is a lot funnier than it should be. Every time I laugh, I’m reminded that I am a huge nerd who appreciates these memes a little too much. It’s odd – these memes somehow manage to make you both smarter and dumber at the same time.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Failure and negative results. It happened in my Montréal work term and it’s inevitable. But if you ask the right questions, understand the larger reason for why you are doing the work, and strive to enjoy the process (being open to learn and genuinely curious about what you’ll discover), then it minimizes the blow.

A quick word of advice for those embarking on a research term:
Your research term is not just a 9-5 job, it’s a learning opportunity that can be far more enriching than a semester of classes. Treat it as a learning opportunity: dive into the literature and put in the same amount of effort into your research as you would in a 5-course semester. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll grow, and you might even get some publications out of it!


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