Sixteen-year-old Celina Paudel solidified her career interest in biomedical engineering after winning a scholarship through the national Girls in Technology (GIT) program. Then, thanks to Rachel Bagni, she got to see what it really means to be a scientist.

Bagni, Ph.D., head scientist of the Target Biology Group, Cancer Research Technology Program, played the role of mentor for a day to Paudel, who said she was eager to learn about the world of biomedical research. 

On the morning of Dec. 7, Bagni welcomed Paudel to the Advanced Technology Research Facility in north Frederick and introduced Paudel to RAS genes, mutations of which cause a high percentage of cancers. In the afternoon, Paudel joined members of Bagni’s team at the lab bench to see RAS research up close.

Girls in Technology scholarship recipient, Celina Paudel, visits the Advanced Technology Research Facility Dec. 7, 2015, and works with Billy Burgan, a scientist in the Cancer Research Technology Program.

In the Target Biology Unit, Paudel examined suspension cells, learned how to identify contaminated cell samples, and saw how to detect a specific protein of interest in a cell lysate. She was fascinated by how each part of the extensive laboratory contributed to a main goal: validating RAS as a target and developing cell-based tools to screen for novel drugs.

While observing scientists Billy Burgan and Katie Powell’s lab benches, Paudel asked, “How does that work?” She watched intently as Burgan demonstrated by portioning a sample of suspension cells into a test tube and spinning the tube in a centrifuge, creating a semisolid pellet. He then added a cell-culture medium to the pellet to resuspend the cells, preparing them to be inserted onto clear slides. He loaded the slides into the Bio-Rad TC10 cell counter, which counted the amount and percentage of live cells in the sample.

While Paudel wants to pursue a career in biomedical engineering, she said her experience at Leidos Biomed “opened [her] eyes to RAS and other types of cancer research.”

Paudel is a junior at Wakefield High School in Fairfax, Va. Her interest in biomedical engineering was narrowed down to genetic engineering after attending a national science fair in Washington, DC. She witnessed a presentation in which the gene that enables jellyfish to glow was inserted into another fish, causing that fish to glow.

“I think science is utterly fascinating,” Paudel said. “It’s applicable to the real world, especially biomedical engineering because it can help so many people. I’m also a technology person, so biomedical engineering combines my interests with laboratory science and computer science.”

When she is in college, Paudel wants to intern in a professor’s lab and conduct a research project. Paudel is contemplating working for a research institute or a company like Leidos Biomed after graduation.

Not only did Paudel become interested in RAS research, but she found inspiration as well.

“The most exciting part of the day was meeting Dr. Bagni because she’s an inspiring woman; she has accomplished so much,” Paudel said. “The experience enhanced my interest in biomedical engineering even more.”

After having this day-in-the-life experience tailored to her interests, Paudel’s motivation to pursue her dreams is stronger than ever, she said.

From time-to-time, people have advised her against pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) due to her gender, but Paudel remains committed to working hard and helping other girls overcome similar obstacles.

GIT, a program of Women in Technology, encourages middle and high school females to pursue STEM careers by offering “experience scholarships” that allow them to shadow STEM professionals. The program also provides scholarships to female students in grades 11 and 12. Women in Technology is a Washington, DC–area nonprofit organization for women in the technology industry.

Image: Girls in Technology scholarship recipient, Celina Paudel, visits the Advanced Technology Research Facility Dec. 7, 2015, and works with Billy Burgan, a scientist in the Cancer Research Technology Program.

Last updated: January 21, 2016