Dear Wellesley: Holly Zhu ’18 Writes from Boston Where She’s Interning with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute

August 19, 2016

The final postcard in our 2016 Summer Series comes from Holly Zhu '18 who writes from just a few miles down the road. Her Global Engagement Internship through Wellesley's Center for Work and Service took her to Cambridge, Mass., this summer where she is interning in a research lab with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Dear Wellesley,

I am writing to you from Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a room overlooking the Charles River. As I haven’t ventured far beyond your backyard, it’s been hard to keep you off my mind this summer. I’ve been reminded of you in many forms during my time here, from running into fellow Wellesley women whilst grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s to hearing updates on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I have never been more proud to be a Wellesley-educated woman, and I will always be grateful that you brought me to Boston this summer.

I am overwhelmed by a bittersweet feeling as I reflect on the past couple of months. This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity of interning in a research lab at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, many thanks to the Wellesley CWS Global Engagement Program. The postdoctoral fellow with whom I was paired focused on studying the proteins regulating the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis (programmed cell death) in order to design combination therapies for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer. Although the current standard chemotherapy for AML is pretty effective at inducing remission, relapse occurs in over 90 percent of patients, and there are risks associated with bone marrow transplants, so there is a definite need for better treatments in the clinic.

Besides conducting experiments in the tissue culture hood, I had the fortune of attending numerous conferences at various institutions in the Longwood Medical Area. It was incredibly inspiring to hear world class clinical investigators present their data on novel therapies for all types of serious diseases. In addition, I spent some time shadowing a clinician who treats AML patients. It was eye-opening and humbling to make the connection between researching with AML cell lines and treating real patients with the disease. I was always moved when the patients kindly allowed me into their examination rooms to hear about the current status of their disease, in spite of what they were all going through. Every patient I met reminded me of the importance of my lab’s research as well as the significance of leukemia therapy as a whole.

My most memorable moment occurred at the annual summer pool party at our principle investigator’s home outside the city. I, along with the other new members of the lab, had just been formally initiated into the “Order of the Mitochondrion” and given our very own mitochondrion pendants. Afterwards, some members of the Order began a game of badminton. My postdoc, a graduate student, and I decided to pass around a birdie on the side. I remember laughing uncontrollably as the three of us, decked in our cutest summer dresses, lightheartedly attempted to look ladylike through our sweat.

Arguably the thing that I appreciated the most this summer was, ironically, the Boston weather. Raised in the dry heat of Dallas, Texas, I’d become accustomed to summers that reached above 100 degrees and remaining in an air-conditioned area for most of the day. In Boston, however, I was always out and about. I discovered so many of the nooks and crannies of this beautiful city that I’d never taken the time to explore, from ferry rides to Spectacle Island to trips to the New England Aquarium. I even enrolled in yoga classes at a studio in a quaint neighborhood of Brookline, a mere 15-minute walk from work. The extensive public transportation system here has made exploration and new adventures right at the end of my fingertips, and I am constantly amazed by how much history and culture this city has to offer.

On the eve of my last day here, as I peer out the window at the breathtaking sunset on the Charles, it has finally dawned on me that I’m leaving this city that I’ve come to know and love. I am comforted by the knowledge that I won’t have to wait long to come back to Boston – and to you, my dear Wellesley.

Much love,