See-yin So explores forensic pathology through research internships

Eager to explore her interest in forensic pathology, See-yin So found the perfect outlet:  a summer internship in New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner sponsored by the Dimensions program. She earned a Cornell Fellowship the following summer to conduct biotech research in Baltimore, and she hopes to enter medical school after graduating in 2010.

Reseach Lab
See-yin So with Dr. Joseph Kao of the University of Baltimore Biotechnology Institute where she completed a summer 2009 Cornell Fellowship

What was your role in the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office?
I interned in their molecular genetics laboratory. The purpose of the lab is to assist medical examiners in determining cause and manner of death in cases of sudden death with positive or no autopsy findings. I specifically performed genetic testing on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome (SUDS) cases.

The internship also covered a broad variety of specialties outside of molecular genetics. I attended an all day sex crimes lecture at the district attorney’s office in the Bronx with Jason Kolowski ’99 who spoke on mitochondrial DNA testing at the OCME. I also heard lectures from New York City detectives and assistants of the district attorney. It was interesting to see how all of the different departments were interconnected.

Were you involved in any crime scene work?
I went once a week to observe in the morgue and, as they say, you see everything in New York City. I saw autopsies on someone who was stabbed, another who jumped in front of a subway, a woman who was hit by a bus, and a 5-week-old baby girl. One really interesting case came in on my last day: a fisherman found a duffle bag in a river that contained a decomposed torso. Granted the cases were difficult to watch, but I loved the challenge of investigating the cause of death, and I was able to learn how detectives and medical examiners interact.

The following summer you interned at the University of Baltimore Biotechnology Institute. What was the focus?
I was contributing to research in Dr. Joseph Kao’s lab within the Medical Biotechnology Center. One of the main research specialties in Dr. Kao’s lab focuses on photoprobes, or molecular optical probes. I worked with one of the two types of photoprobes, fluorescent indicators. Fluorescent indicators are molecules that change their fluorescence properties in response to changes in their physical or chemical environment. My main goal was to test and validate an optical voltage sensor in living cells by fluorescence microscopy.

Other than your internships, what’s been best about your pre-med experience?
I really think that I’ve benefited from the small liberal arts community.  Due to small class sizes, all of my professors know me by name rather than as a number. With the block plan, I was able to balance all of my activities, improve my organizational skills, and maintain two majors and a minor. I feel that the high-volume workload experienced in the OCAAT curriculum helps prepare me for medical school. Also, there are so many professional connections that exist to Cornell, and the Dimensions program helped me utilize them to my benefit.

How does your Ethnic Studies major fit in?
I have always been interested in other cultures and their traditions, and I am specifically drawn to different approaches to health and healing. Whether it is an herbal tea or a meditative state of mind used as a preventative measure, I appreciate new perspectives.

Have are some highlights from your Ethnic Studies program?
Multicultural Psychology taught me a lot about myself as an individual. Also, Multicultural Literature was my first English class on Cornell’s campus and I loved the material covered. I was able to combine these classes and further my research in both realms with my Ethnic Studies 485 that focused on the Psychological, Sociological, and Literary Perspectives of Multiracial Identity Development.

After all your experiences, are you still planning to pursue forensic pathology?
I still love the idea of being a forensic pathologist and have positive memories of my time in New York. However, after shadowing some physicians in family practice, I realized how many misconceptions I had about that area of medicine, and I really enjoyed the opportunity. I am excited for medical school so I can experience all of the different avenues available to me within the medical field.

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