Lions in the Lab: Biology Students Visit Cold Spring Harbor Research Laboratory

Upper School student-scientists in Anne Metcalf’s DP Biology class took their learning beyond the classroom with a field trip to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). 

Founded in 1890, CSHL has been a major force in shaping contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, and quantitative biology. The Lab has been home to eight Nobel Prize winners and is committed to educating the next generation of great scientific minds, with a graduate school as well as programs for middle, high school, and undergrad students and teachers.

“The next generation of great scientific minds” may include Dwight students, who found their visit to be an exceptional opportunity to hear from current scientists and graduate students about their work. Layla Purovic ’23 said it best: “For young, curious, passionate biology students getting a firsthand look at what real and exceptional research looks like is inspirational.”   

This eye-opening field trip was arranged by Dwight parent Dr. Monn Monn Myat (Leia Immanuel ’22), Associate Dean of the Watson School of Biological Sciences, CSHL’s graduate school.

Students toured different labs, not only learning about the wide range of investigative studies underway and their potential life-changing impact, but also about the multiplicity of pathways for entering a career in biomedical research, underscoring the important point that there is not one road. The goal of the day: to provide insights into what it’s like to be a graduate student in the biological sciences.

Among quite a few experiments Dwight Lions heard about was one regarding the maternal instincts of mice and another about birds learning songs from their fathers, related directly to their own learning. “The experiments we saw tied with our current unit about innate and learned behavior and ethology really well — it was really exciting to see what a working laboratory looks like! It helped us understand what life as a scientist might be like if we ever want to pursue a career in the sciences,” shared Enzo Palaci Zani ’22.

Along the way, students had the chance to see the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine won by Barbara McClintock — the first and only woman to win that prize without sharing it with other researchers — in 1983 for her discovery of transposable elements through experiments on corn at CSHL. 

Students also heard about the facility’s architecture and art collection. “I particularly enjoyed learning about the different art installations around campus and how they related to the science being studied,” shared Grace Guthart ’22. Fellow senior Samantha Strauss agreed, “I loved hearing about the bacteriophage staircase and the Chihuly blown glass sculpture of a cluster of neurons — it brought my love of art and biology together during the tour!” 

When students returned to Dwight, they wrote thank-you notes to Dr. Myat, expressing their appreciation for receiving such a rich and educational experience and how inspiring they found the visit to be. Ella Shepard ’22 described her chat with one grad student, saying: “She shared information on her transition from a high school interest in science to an interest in cancer research in college and how her teachers’ suggestions and the experiences that followed helped her narrow her interests in cancer research. She sparked my curiosity about cancer research.” 

Sparking curiosity is exactly what we hoped for the students on this field trip — and all of our students every day!