Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Sean 00:00:55 Dr. Kristin Lambert, class of 2014 2019 and 2021 is a pediatric resident at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. She earned her MD and PhD from Penn State's College of Medicine. After completing the early assurance program in partnership with the Schreyer Honors College, Kristin gives a guided tour through the MD PhD program that will be of assistance to scholars interested in either or both degrees, including insight on approaching medical school with a degree other than biology or chemistry. She earned her BSS in immunology and infectious Disease with honors in biology from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. She also has advice for all scholars as she reflects on developing leadership in the Penn State Blue Band Dancing and Thaw dropping courses and adjusting learning and studying strategies and the importance of mentors and paying it forward in any discipline. You can read Kristin's full bio in a more detailed breakdown in the show notes on your podcast app.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Joining me here today from the Queen City is Scholar alumni Society board member Dr. Kristin Lambert. Thank you for joining us here today, Kristin, it's great to see you. So tell us before we get into your experience as a physician and as a PhD grad, how did you first come to Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College to begin that journey?
Kristin Lambert 00:02:13 Absolutely. Thanks Sean for having me. I'm so excited to, to chat today. I guess Penn State had always been on the radar. My dad had attended Penn State and recalled all of his, uh, college memories quite fondly and had marched in the blue bands at a very young age, had brought us to campus and kind of exposed us to the campus atmosphere and the community. And as I was approaching, I would say more of my junior year of high school started thinking more seriously about what colleges should be on the list. And one of the reservations at that time was, geez, Penn State is so big and I don't know if that's the right fit or not. So, uh, learning and kind of stumbling onto the website online for Schreyer and learning that there was an honors program really was quite appealing because it made the larger campus seem like there was going to be a smaller knit community, almost like a safety net for me and kind of provide the educational experience I was looking for in the, in the larger campus community for, you know, all the other extracurricular stuff I was looking for.
Kristin 00:03:14 So that's kind of, you know, how it rose to the top of a pile in high school for application season.
Sean 00:03:21 You are not the first person to say that and I'm sure you won't be the last. That's definitely a big draw for us is maximizing that small school feel within all of the resources of the R one that is Penn State. Now I'm curious what drew you specifically to major in something we're unfortunately much more familiar with than when you came to Penn State Immunology and Infectious Disease?
Kristin 00:03:41 Yeah, I feel like that is one that usually surprises people even, you know, the general person I meet on the street and even people in med school or who I work with now on a daily basis in the hospital, they're like, wow, that's so cool. I didn't know they offered majors like that in college. And to be honest, it's a major that I think only exists at three schools in the country. So Penn State is very unique in that regard. And then on top of that, it's a major that is at Penn State offered through the agricultural school. So that again is also a little bit different, um, from the other programs that are like it in the country. I had really not had, I hadn't settled on a particular major in high school and really looked through I think every single department page and was trying really hard to figure out what I was going to do in college, what I was gonna study, what I might wanna do after college.
Kristin 00:04:32 And kind of stumbled across it on again a website and thought, well that sounds different. Um, let me look at this button that has like what courses are involved and saw really cool course titles like Viral Pathogenesis and Epidemiology and started reading more about it and thought, wow, this is really unique and kind of cool and I think I'd be excited about this. So, um, I kind of got lucky 'cause I feel like I didn't know how awesome it was. I had an inkling and kind of, you know, said this is what I'm gonna do and showed up on campus and got even more surprised by how special it was and how well it prepared me to do what I'm doing today.
Sean 00:05:11 And we'll dive in a little bit deeper into that in a minute, but I wanna pivot completely away from science and into the arts for a minute. You followed in your family footsteps and marched for four years, I believe in the Pennsylvania State University marching blue band. What was that experience like and more importantly, what advice would you give to scholars who are looking to march in the band or do other activities like that and balancing those demands for something that is a time commitment like the blue band and the time commitment of being a scholar?
Kristin 00:05:41 Certainly. So being in the Penn State Blue Band was a dream come true, it was absolutely at the top of my, if I had a bucket list for college, things that I wanted to do and participate in and I could have cried from happiness the day they announced that I, you know, had made the band, uh, for anybody interested in looking at doing band or any extracurricular in college, I would say go for it. You need things to uh, give you some balance between all the schoolwork that you're gonna be engaged in. And I think activities like Blue Band are also great 'cause you form relationships and friendships and make memories that last a light time. And then on top of that you also learn I think really important life skills, things not only like time management but work ethic. I, I think the leadership for the band especially, um, Greg Drain and at the time Richard Bundy, um, they were very big on on the work ethic and and uh, teamwork and those things I think really carry through into, you know, quote unquote the adult or professional world when you're in the working environment too.
Kristin 00:06:43 So I think Blue Band was a great <laugh>, a great decision and I'm so happy 'cause it's, it's part of my fond college memories
Sean 00:06:51 Now. What instrument were you playing when you were walking out of the tunnel and at, by the end of your career, leading folks out of the tunnel, right?
Kristin 00:06:58 Yeah, so I played clarinet just like my dad and I actually met my husband in the blue band and he was in the clarinet section as well. And my final year I was very fortunate to be one of the tunnel leads, so standing at the front there when we would come out for game day And that was really cool because getting the first glimpse of 110,000 people, it kind of gives you shivers down your back <laugh> and you get really excited. So it's, it's a truly one of a kind experience
Sean 00:07:24 And I think it's really cool that you did that because a lot of students if they're focused on med school are probably like, I gotta be all in on my classes. And you found time for something like that, like you said the leadership opportunities, the arts with music. And you also found time to be involved in thon which obviously connects to your career in a way, but you know, another time commitment and you got to dance and thon. What kind of advice when this is airing, we're gonna be a little bit closer tot thon season and dancers are starting to be selected. What advice would you have for students who get that honor to dance for 46 at the B J C?
Kristin 00:07:58 I think just soak up every second. It is again such a one of a kind experience and you're gonna remember it for the rest of your life. And I think aside from soaking all of it up, do your best to interact with the families and the kids. 'cause I think that's something that's very different about dancing as opposed to being a general spectator. Attending hon in and of itself is great. The atmosphere is wonderful, it's electric and there's so many good entertainment acts and so many fun activities all weekend long. But being on the floor as a dancer is like a whole other level like you graduate to. So, uh, the real honor I think of being a dancer is having the privilege to be an outward face for the whole organization and interact with those families and it's a big deal for them having been on it, uh, from the dancer side, um, as a family relations chair for my organization and now also having graduated and worked at the Children's Hospital in Hershey. Like these families really, really look forward to that weekend all year, especially, you know, when they spend a majority of their time either in and out of doctor's appointments or in the hospital being able to walk into an environment like that and these kids feel like a celebrity. You just walking up to them and you know, making them feel special. It means the whole world to them. So do your best to, to reach out and make new friends with the kids and and those families that are there for the weekend. What
Sean 00:09:19 Org were you the FR chair for just outta curiosity for
Kristin 00:09:22 Blue Band <laugh>? Yeah, once you, once you, once you uh, drink the Kool-Aid from the, from the blue band, um, you, you wanna spend all your time there because the people are really top-notch and wonderful. So kind of did my thought involvement through Blue Band.
Sean 00:09:37 I didn't know that that was an organization so I learned something new and I hope you listener did too, that you can mix all of these great opportunities at Penn State tied into your major and your career path and your personal interests. I think that's great. And now gonna pivot the conversation back. We're gonna go stem heavy, we're gonna dive into the science into med school. I know if you're, if you're listening, you're probably here to your Kristin's experiences with the MD PhD program. So we're gonna start diving into that now that we've hit on your great experiences with our mission tenet of leadership. Now let's start with your thesis. What did you study, what did you research and how is that helping you in your career today? If it is?
Kristin 00:10:16 My thesis work was in uh, the biology department, so through eberly and not necessarily the College of Ag. And I would mention that to current scholars, just to remind everybody that you don't have to pigeonhole yourself or feel like you need to do it within your department or your same major. Um, I had other friends that you know, explored outside of their department or even their college and I think doing an honors thesis is a very worthy process and pursuit regardless of what field it's in. So don't feel like you have to stay within major or field to complete it. So I ventured a little bit outside, I went to the biology department and um, our lab studied the ecology of infectious disease and when we think about ecology we think about how different living things interact with each other and their environment and how they can adapt and evolve and change.
Kristin 00:11:06 And so we studied um, that in the context of infectious disease. So how do for example parasites and their hosts interact with each other, how does the environment influence that? And so how all those interactions um, affect each other. And we studied parasites that actually lived in rabbits and um, the worms that would infect the rabbits would go through a lifecycle and the larval stage would be inside the rabbit and as those worms would mature, they would shed eggs into the environment and the eggs were super important because they're the ones that would hatch and reinitiate infection of a parasite. So part of the disease transmission process. So we were studying how the immune response inside the rabbit could affect the parasites lifecycle. And questions that I asked in my research project were, you know, does the immune system target the worm? Does it target the worm's, offspring the egg?
Kristin 00:12:02 And if it does, does it change the egg quality? Does it influence its ability to hatch? So is there a way for the immune system within the host to affect disease dynamics or the ability to infect other individuals and keep the disease spreading? So it was an interesting research project because initially when I had signed up for it, I had no research skills. I started as a freshman looking for for a project to work on. Um, and was pretty honest when I reached out to people that I was a schreyer scholar, that I was interested in doing research that I had to do a thesis and I did not have any research experiences and that felt really intimidating. But I was lucky to find a great mentor that was like, we can work with that. Um, especially if you're open to doing just about anything.
Kristin 00:12:49 And so kind of got in on the ground level but that involved actually collecting rabbit feces every day for a whole summer because the worms that we studied actually would shed the eggs into the poop. So, um, not very glamorous but that was how science was and I think that was a good life lesson too for medicine because especially being pediatrics, we have babies, they spit up, they make diapers and you know, life is messy at times. So I think that was a good tie in but also it was a good life lesson I think too. And if there's something you don't know how to do but you want to just be honest with people and just show that you're determined to learn and I think people can really work with that.
Sean 00:13:30 That is great advice, especially if you are in your first or second year and you're starting to figure out this process. Now Kristin, you've mentioned here and if you've seen in the show notes as well that you are a graduate from the College of Agricultural Sciences. Now I think a lot of folks probably wanna assume biology is a typical major to go to med school with. And you did your thesis in there, but your main major was in ag. How do you feel that that helped prepare you for med school and gave you a different perspective than say if you had majored in biology directly? This is
Kristin 00:14:00 A common question that I get asked and something that I was worried about too. When I look back on my time in college and undergraduate studies, I think there is a common misperception that there are certain majors that you have to study in order to gain admission to med school. And I think I wanna bust that myth by saying, um, you should follow your heart and do what is gonna make you passionate, what you're excited about. And if that is English, there is a place for you still in med school. And I like to use English as an example because part of our job as clinicians or physicians is to tell a patient's story understanding and communicating with them about what, what it is that's bothering them, how it impacts their life. So even an English major is gonna bring excellent skills to becoming a physician.
Kristin 00:14:45 I, I really don't think you have to study a particular thing and I'm glad I did something a little bit different that prepared me still very well for being a doctor and getting into med school. Coming from the ag background, specifically the College of Agricultural Sciences always like to remind us that they also did biology, but more with a lens on applications. So not just what we consider, you know, textbook knowledge, but how is it real world applied? How is the biology we learned in the classroom applied to making vaccines, doing disease forecasting, how does it affect our crops? So big picture, stuff like that. And I really like that too because I think part of being an mdph is being hands-on, being in the, you know, the clinical arena, whether it's in the operating room or the clinic or in the hospital at the bedside with real world applications of science. But also being a PhD and taking things back to the lab and at the bench and asking questions and maybe spending seven years so that you can add a sentence to the textbook. But it's a a perfect molding of those two things. And I think the College of Agricultural and Sciences introduced me to that, the ability to study biology but also do it with a lens towards how is this gonna help us in the real world.
Sean 00:15:57 That's excellent. And you mentioned the MD PhD program and I was wondering if I can call you Dr. Dr Kristin Lambert <laugh>. In fact, you were the first Schreyer scholar to participate in our early assurance program for the mdphd. So I wanna break this down into a couple of questions here 'cause I know there's gonna be some students who want like all the insight from somebody who's lived it and graduated from it. So first of all, can you explain in your own words what this program is and how you decided that that was an option that you wanted to pursue?
Kristin 00:16:25 Yeah, it was not, uh, again, something that wasn't on my radar, but I actually, uh, got to the end of my sophomore year of studies and was starting to panic a little bit 'cause I had friends that were business majors, engineering majors, and they had attended the career fair. And as a STEM major, that's something that we sometimes don't feel like we have a place there. Um, it's not always the popular thing and especially if you're thinking about med school or grad school, the career fair doesn't always seem like the arena for you. So you do a little bit homework on the side, like what am I gonna do with my summer plans? So I had done some research on my own to try and find summer internships that were more research focused. I had applied to a ton but hadn't quite heard back yet and was starting to get nervous like, what am I gonna do with my summer?
Kristin 00:17:10 How is it gonna help me decide what type of career I wanna have after college? And so actually reached out and made an appointment with Lisa Kki and the honors college career development office. And if you haven't met Lisa yet, she's an absolutely lovely and wonderful human. And I, I owe a lot of where I'm at today to her advising and her mentorship and kind of advocacy for my skills. I met with her, it was probably an hour long meeting and she looked at my resume and helped me tweak things and honestly sent me with a handwritten list of different people that she knew. And she's a very well connected lady. She knows everyone and that includes alumni and she is able to make phone calls for you and emails and connect people, which I think is one of the benefits of being an honors college student is you have resources like this.
Kristin 00:17:59 But Lisa was able to connect me with all these folks and I could pick their brains and ask them questions. And one of the folks that she actually referred me to was Dr. Levinson, who's one of the MD PhD program directors at Penn State Hershey. And he was actually gonna come the following week for a campus visit, which really felt divinely inspired. Like what, what are the odds? Right? I meet with Lisa and then the following week this guy has come into campus and so I attended this information session in like C nine in the Atherton ground floor. Met him, kind of talked with him after the session and before I knew it was applying to Hershey's first year of a Schreyer, Penn State College of Medi Medicine, like integrated program. Uh, where they were working together to bring undergraduate students onto campus, not only for a research internship but to get some clinical exposure as well.
Kristin 00:18:48 And this was a paid opportunity and it was supposed to give you a sense of what it was gonna be like to be an MD-PhD student. And I thought, wow, this sounds like a perfect meeting of all the things I'm interested in, like med school's on my radar, grad school's on my radar and this will gimme a chance to explore both in a single summer and this sounds great. So Applied was lucky enough to be invited to to go to do that internship and it really set me on the path to where I'm today I had an excellent summer doing research, going to clinic, um, and talking to other people, both students and administrators and faculty in the MD PhD program at Hershey and felt like, yeah, this is where I think I'm supposed to be and I hope that they're interested in inviting me back in the future.
Kristin 00:19:31 So that internship program ended up being built into a longer track where uh, the idea was for you to spend subsequent summers there and then ultimately if those went well and there was a mutual, uh, relationship of respect and understanding and you like them, they like you, they invite you to apply for early assurance so that before the end of your junior year you would know I'm, I'm gonna be in an MD PhD program at Hershey and I'll be doing both med school and grad school there, which is that the path I took, which really was wonderful and it's a one of a kind program. I've not found anything else like it in the country. And I would say one of the benefits from it too was knowing before my senior year of college that that was already lined up because the process for applying to both med school and grad school has gotten number one, very time intensive but also two very expensive.
Kristin 00:20:22 And so it really freed up a lot of time for me during my senior year of college to focus on spending extra time in lab to do my thesis, have these experiences with the blue band dancing and thaw. So I look back and I'm like, wow, that one meeting with Lisa, it really changed my not only college experience, especially my senior year, making it really rewarding and having more experiences and not stressing as much, much about the application process for a med school or MD-PhD program. But it also put me on this fantastic life trajectory and set me up with my career where I'm at now.
Sean 00:20:57 That is great. And I could not possibly give a better sales pitch for meeting with Lisa and taking advantage of the opportunities. And clearly it stuck with you 'cause you got the exact room C nine and Atherton Hall where we have a lot of those kinds of events and sessions. Now I think you are the first alum on following the Gone to have gone to the College of Medicine at Hershey. Can you talk what it's like to essentially kind of stay home in the family, if you will, for your continued education down the road in the sweetest place on earth?
Kristin 00:21:27 It's great. People look at you, they know you're a lifer. That's what they call you, a Penn State lifer. I think honestly people were surprised that I actually moved out to Cincinnati for a training. 'cause I think a lot of people assumed, uh, I would stay and maybe, maybe I'll be back in Hershey someday. But it was a, it was a great choice. And staying in the Penn State family, there was something really familiar and comforting with that. And I think there's a, a certain quality to being a Penn Stater and the types of people that you surround yourself with that's supportive. And that was something I was looking for too with the MDPHD program. It's a program, it's a rigorous training program. There are going to be challenges. It's also during a time in your life when you're growing up maybe thinking about starting a family. So you wanna have support you, you wanna go to a good program, but you wanna have support too. So that feeling of Penn State community, um, was something that I was absolutely fond of and helped make that decision to stay at Hershey that much cheese's gear.
Sean 00:22:25 Excellent. And you mentioned that you had a chance to work at the New Children's Hospital there as well. What was that experience like? Oh,
Kristin 00:22:31 The facilities are so beautiful and there's something really special about knowing you stood out on the corner, canning or, you know, doing all these fundraisers, <laugh> and seeing where all those pennies and dimes and dollars go towards. Uh, but also, yeah, every med student at Hershey will do a pediatrics rotation. So you spend time in the children's hospital and just being present for what some of these families are going through is an honor, it's a privilege and it's, those experiences also were ones that shaped my interest in going into pediatrics. I really enjoy not only working with the kids, but there's something special about supporting parents and caregivers, especially because it's really tough to watch your child suffer. And so I think there's a special quality to a pediatrician where you have your patient, but you also in some sense are taking care of the whole family. And there's siblings too that are scared and stressed out by what they're seeing and and family members that are very concerned about their wellbeing of their child. So it's a very rewarding career and as a med student rotating through the children's hospital, you learn a lot and see a lot and have great experiences.
Sean 00:23:39 You've mentioned the pediatrics piece quite a bit and obviously if you've read the show notes, you've seen that you are a, a pediatric resident currently. At the time of recording this, did you always want to go into pediatrics or did you kind of have an open mind in med school and allow inspiration to find which path in medicine that you wanted to pursue? Definitely
Kristin 00:23:59 The latter. Uh, again, I wasn't quite sure when I started, I really spent time exploring throughout the entire seven years that I was at Penn State Hershey. I came in thinking I might do something like internal medicine, uh, which is more adult focused medicine. And that kind of evolved with time as I, you know, spent more time doing my rotations during medical school. I spent part of third year doing a rotation for about a month in OB G Y N and really loved that. And so that gave me pause. I also did a transplant surgery rotation and enjoyed that experience too. So in some ways, by the end of my third year of medical school, I had a really hard time and struggled picking something. And I realized that pediatrics really in some ways was the best decision for me because there were still so many paths and so many different types of medicine that were represented.
Kristin 00:24:53 Those experiences that I liked about O B G Y N being in the operating room, being present with a family for the birth of their baby, you can still do that in pediatrics because oftentimes the NICU team will be in the corner for that. The things that I liked about adult medicine, I could still get in pediatrics interacting with the adults who were caregivers for their children and and needed help and had a lot of questions. So I think pediatrics was ultimately the confluence of all the different types of medicine that I had explored and, and the best decision. But it certainly wasn't anything that I came in feeling like this is definitely what I was meant to do. I've had classmates and friends that God loved them knew from like four years old that they were gonna do pediatrics and that's excellent that they always knew. But for me it was more of a process to find and figure out where I felt like I best fit in or where I felt like my skills maybe were gonna be most useful.
Sean 00:25:45 I hope that was helpful for you listening if you're interested in medicine and, and thinking about that process of narrowing down your specialty one day. Now also, if you're listening, you've probably heard Krista mention a certain number a few times, and that number is seven and seven is the number of years of additional school that you took on after 12 years of K 12, four years at University Park for undergrad. That's a lot of schools. So the, there's a lot of requirements for both degrees. Can you talk about just the practical breakdown of how you split out the requirements for doing graduate work, medical work, clinics, all these things?
Kristin 00:26:21 It's confusing for sure. Um, the setup for a typical MD-PhD program is usually you go in and you do your first two years of medical school and then after you finish that you break off from your med school classmates and enter your PhD. So you've kind of done half of an MD degree at that point, and you take a break and you hit pause, you go do your research at that point. And that's a little bit less of a, a straight line in some sense because you don't know how long your research project is gonna take. So it's anywhere on the average of three to five years that you're gonna spend on the research side of things, working on your PhD. And the time again, is really dependent on your project and how things pan out. And then once you've, you know, written your PhD thesis and defended it and wrapped up your research projects, then you plan to kind of reintegrate into the medical school world, which at that point, the classmates that you started with, they've graduated and they're long gone.
Kristin 00:27:17 And so you're reentering and your new classmates are several years younger than you and it's, it's a different experience for sure. But then you come back, you do your third year of med school, and that's primarily clinical rotations as opposed to the earlier two years, which were more like book and lecture-based classes. And then the fourth and final year you still some clinical rotations in med school, but you're starting at that point to figure out what you wanna apply to and, and what you're thinking about for residency. And so that that at that point you're wrapping up. So in total I spent seven years, but it could have been anywhere from seven to nine. So it's definitely a huge commitment and I feel like at times when I, I tell other students about this, you are thinking about it, that number is scary and it's a, it's a lot to process.
Kristin 00:28:00 You're like, wow, that's a long time. And in some ways it does feel like that some days and other times it feels like it went by in a blink of an eye. But I think the important thing is that if you're interested in MD-PhD program, that you spend a lot of time talking to people that have either either done that training or are currently in it, or faculty members that have advised students in that path, um, just to get a better sense of what it entails because you're making a big life decision. Seven years is not, not nothing. So you just wanna be absolutely sure and excited about that as a career path because if you pick it for the wrong reasons, you're gonna honestly end up quite miserable. So you wanna, you wanna make sure that it, it it's something you're truly excited about.
Sean 00:28:46 Absolutely. I was gonna ask how you like mentally prepare for that even and find balance because med school, from everything I've heard is really intense. Everything I've heard about getting a PhD is very intense and you layer on both at the same time. It's
Kristin 00:29:00 The best of both worlds. So I think it just, it's just, uh, looking at it that way, there are some real perks and there are some real benefits to having both trainings available to you. And I think one of the benefits too that you keep in mind and that always made me feel better about the, the large time investment is once I'm done with this training, I really am gonna have all opportunities open to me in terms of what types of ways I wanna use my degrees. So that was really beneficial.
Speaker 3 00:29:36 Calling all Penn State alumni's students and friends join thas College gives back campaign from November 28th to December 8th. During this time, students and alumni are invited to make in-kind donations to the Hershey Holiday Toy Drive gift registry. These gifts and toys will be directly sent to the Penn State Health Children's Hospital to help our incredible four diamonds families this holiday season. To access the gift registry, go to toy drive.th.org. From there you can select any gifts that are still needed and have them shipped directly to the th office address in the registry. Any alumni who donate gifts from the registry will automatically be entered into a lottery for a chance to win a th gift basket. Be sure to include which academic college you're supporting, including the Schreyer Honors College in the gift message so you can be entered. Any questions can be emailed directly to alumni dot [email protected]
for the kids.
Sean 00:30:36 And you mentioned one of the things that you kind of, when you stop out and do the PhD part is obviously you have a dissertation, a doctoral thesis, whatever you want to call it. What did you do your research on there? Did you continue with the rabbits or did you find a, a new path to pursue in, in that space? And are you using any of that research in your current practice?
Kristin 00:30:55 So no more rabbits, I, uh, switched gears and decided to do work that was more human focused. My PhD was spent studying how inflammation is regulated in the lungs in terms of asthma. We also did biomarker work trying to identify different small molecules that could be used to understand who has asthma and who doesn't and who has types of asthma that might respond better to medications than others. So, uh, totally different than the rabbits, but I think some of the skills that I gained as an undergraduate student still carried over because at, at the foundation or core of all these research experiences is an understanding of the scientific method, which sounds corny, but regardless, I think when you work on an honors thesis, you start to learn that process. Having an observation, asking a good research question, putting together a hypothesis, figuring out with your mentor as an undergraduate, how you're gonna test the hypothesis and design your experiments and then getting mentored, help on analyzing your data and then thinking about how you're gonna communicate your results, whether that's at a, you know, undergraduate research symposium in an abstract format if you're going to a conference.
Kristin 00:32:09 So I think, you know, working through that thesis process, that's the first real life application and introduction to the scientific method. And once you learn how to do that, it really doesn't matter what field you pursue. Like you could totally switch gears. And I've seen it happen before where someone's done a project on neuroscience and showed up and now they're studying breast cancer. So you can totally switch gears and I think that's never a problem as long as the foundation is solid and you're a good scientist because you ask good questions and work on developing a good hypothesis and think really hard about how you're gonna analyze your data. And all of those things are things that I think schreyer scholars get tons of experience with by doing the thesis.
Sean 00:32:51 Absolutely and I think that was a great, almost like an ad break for the thesis, but it was just part of our conversation. <laugh>, I think it, you know, it really is an opportunity and can really set you up. I know there's, there is a lot of hard work that goes into it, but if you're looking at any kind of advanced work in STEM or elsewhere, I think it's a good opportunity for you. You talked about asthma and that was kinda what you focused on what specifically, especially working in pediatrics, I'm sure that's very helpful for you to have a really robust understanding of asthma. You know, what did you study and, and what was your contribution to the literature?
Kristin 00:33:22 I think the thing that surprises people, especially lay people or even when I would talk about my research with my family is this idea where we think that asthma is like one size fits all. We think about it as one clinical entity in the same way that sometimes we make the mistake of assuming there's one type of cancer and not all cancers are created equal in the same way that asthma is more of a clinical syndrome and it's not one size fits all either. So there are different types of asthma. There's asthma that responds to steroid medication, there's asthma that doesn't. And then on a molecular level there are certain types of asthma that are driven by different types of inflammation or different types of immune cells. So without getting into the nitty gritty, some of my work studied about where are those differences and being able to understand different pockets or cohorts of asthmatics and understanding what makes this group different from that group.
Kristin 00:34:16 With the ultimate goal being moving towards personalized medicine, we don't wanna throw the same medications or same treatment plan at a six year old who has asthma versus you know, a 50 year old asthmatic. There, there are differences and different exposures and I'm sure some people have heard about it and I see it every day in clinic. There are some kids who have asthma that's triggered just by viral infections. There are other kids that it's exercise induced and then there's adults that have different exposures or different types of inflammation going on. So my research really looked at the molecular level, like the really small processes or mechanisms for what's driving inflammation and how it's regulated too because not only do we wanna be able to stratify the disease and understand where the different groups are and what makes them different and be able to use that to treat them, but I think if we understand the steps that are causing the inflammation or regulating it, you can then hopefully develop new treatments or come up with new strategies to hopefully turn inflammation off. And so those are, those are things that we focused on in our lab, but also for my thesis project as well.
Sean 00:35:22 That's awesome that you're able to be in the lab study, this add to the body of knowledge and now it can inform your work as a physician. So I think that's a really cool part of this program. Speaking of the programs, what advice would you give to scholars who are applying for MD programs or PhD programs or maybe both. Anything that they can be doing now in their time as an undergrad to set themselves up for success in addition to making the most of the thesis process?
Kristin 00:35:48 I think you hit it on the head, making the most of the thesis process is really going to be beneficial for you. We talk about it as if it's just common, especially in the Schreyer community. We are so aware of that requirement for graduation and we know about it when we apply to the honors college and so it's very common, it's very natural for us to think about that. But there are other students coming from other universities and colleges into graduate school or medical school or MD-PhD programs that have not had that experience. So in some ways you having had that, it gives you something to talk about in your applications, in your interviews. Also doing those experiences, you're hopefully interacting with faculty who can write you letters of recommendation. And from that perspective, I, I think some of the best advice I was given was to, um, start early by trying to identify things you're interested in for your thesis project and, and the more time you have too is gonna give you a better chance to try some things out in case something is not a good fit for you.
Kristin 00:36:49 It's gonna give you a chance to maybe build relationships with faculty members on a closer level than maybe you would get in some of these larger lecture courses. And so I think that's good too. People that can speak to your skills and how they developed from maybe when you are a freshman or a sophomore to where you're finishing is I think gonna be a good narrative for a recommendation letter. Yes, starting early is critical to this. If you, if you're just hearing this now and you're further along in the process, I'm, I'm still confident that you can do a great job and there will be people there to support you. But if you're a freshman and a sophomore, definitely give it some thought and see if there's something you can do to jump in right away. I have
Sean 00:37:27 A fun question that still ties into all of this. When you filled out the, your questionnaire, you mentioned this concept of what I'm gonna call the research family tree. Yes. Can you explain that for us non STEM folks and particularly kind of the really cool lineage that you discovered that you have? Yeah,
Kristin 00:37:44 I love this because I had this introduced to me when I attended a conference. My research mentor for my PhD, his research mentor for his PhD, had actually walked up to me and she said, I'm your grandmother. And I thought, that's a really weird comment to make. Where is this coming from? I don't know you. And she kind of, you know, chuckled quietly under her breath. I think she got the reaction out of me that she was hoping for, which is she caught me off guard and by surprise. But in talking with her more closely, I realized that in science there's this great tradition of mentorship. You don't do science in a vacuumer alone and you do make this critical decision to select mentors to help you in STEM with learning how to do science, especially research or bench work. And so there's actually a website for academic family trees and you can go on and search your research mentor and it can pull up a whole lineage really just like you have a family tree with your genetic relatives. This one will be a mentorship, uh, lineage. So I was able to go back and, and through my PhD mentor go all the way back and I can actually trace it to Louis Pasture who is the father of modern microbiology. He created our rabies vaccine. So I thought that was pretty neat. And it's one of those cool things too where you're like several degrees of separation from a celebrity like that's, I think that's mine.
Sean 00:39:05 I know I saw that as your fun fact. And I was like, that is really, really cool. You know, if you have a gallon of milk in your fridge, like thank Kristin,
Kristin 00:39:12 Thank you
Sean 00:39:13 <laugh>, great, great, great, great great grandfather <laugh>
Kristin 00:39:17 And science. Yes,
Sean 00:39:18 Yes, your science. Great-great-great grandfather. Now to go from the, the lab bench to, from the research back to the clinical side, obviously you're a resident right now. Can you talk really briefly about that matching process, what that entails and how you actually start being a resident and actually going and being a doctor?
Kristin 00:39:37 So this is one of those things that was very confusing to me. Even when I went to med school, neither of my parents or any of my relatives were physicians. So I did not know as much as some of my other classmates who came from families where there were other healthcare professionals. But as a medical student in your final year, you go through something that's called the match process. And how this works is you apply to different hospitals or residency programs across the country and you interview with them and at the end of that you put those programs in a ranked order. Um, so if there's 20 programs, you rank them from one to 20 and at the same time the programs you interviewed at, they will rank you <laugh> against their other applicants and put in a ranked list. And both of you end up submitting them to a computer and a computer algorithm, which is a gigantic mystery.
Kristin 00:40:28 No one knows how it works or what goes into it, but this algorithm plays matchmaker and it tries to pair you up with your best possible match. And wherever it decides, uh, is where you go. And there's a big day in March every year where med students across the country at 12 noon all learn about their fate and they get to open up an email or an envelope and find out where they've matched to. And it's a really big deal in some ways when I went through it, I would explain it to my family as almost like an N F L draft. You were waiting to find out where you were gonna get drafted to you. You knew you wanted to be a doctor or a football player, but you weren't sure what city you were gonna be moving to or what team you were gonna be playing for. And so the match process is also kind of wild and crazy, but the only thing I could compare it to is like a professional draft and it's just, it worked out really well for me. I was very happy with my match and I, I feel like most people do end up happy with their match. There is something in that algorithm, I have no idea what, but it, it does a good job.
Sean 00:41:28 If you heard the little E S P N jingle in your head, no you're not alone. 'cause I did and I was chuckling, I was thinking wow, Cincinnati made some great calls in the past few years between Joe Burrow and Dr. Chris and Lambert <laugh>. Uh, good things, good things happening there in the queen city on both the N F L and on the medical side. Now this one's a little bit more of a deep question and I don't think there's a right or wrong answer, but how do you think that the pandemic, because especially you studied immunology and infectious disease, how do you think the pandemic has affected medical education and particularly in ways that might impact scholars who are seeking careers in healthcare be that med school, nursing, athletic training, personal training, and the myriad other opportunities in healthcare professions?
Kristin 00:42:10 Wow. Yeah, so Covid has reshaped all of our lives and I still think we're in the midst of it and we don't even understand all of what the ramifications will be for healthcare and healthcare education. I can speak to, I was finishing up medical school around the time that the pandemic first started and have done residency entirely in a covid time. And I think there are some changes that have happened just with telehealth being introduced and that being a more permanent fixture fixture in healthcare delivery. That wouldn't have even been on my radar when I started the MD PhD program like seven years prior. It was, it was not done routinely, if at all. And that's now something that we're using to provide care to individuals that live in rural settings and maybe can't travel, you know, two hours to get to the doctor's office or for the teenager that feels really depressed or has social anxiety and doesn't wanna leave the house.
Kristin 00:43:06 And so we can just talk to them from the comfort of their bedroom. Um, so I think there's a lot of benefits with that to put things in a positive sense. I'm sure Covid Hass had a lot of effects on us in healthcare that have been negative. It has been challenging, but I think it's forced us to start being a little bit more innovative. And so telehealth is one of those innovations. I think one of the other things too is it's forced us to look at safety and now I think about the fact that we have adequate access to protective gear we wear for everything now. And it's kind of wild to think about the before times when, you know, maybe we didn't wear gloves for certain things or I didn't wear a mask into every single room whi, which is really crazy to think about. So I think we've moved into being more conscious about how infectious diseases spread, more careful about that and wearing more protective gear while working
Sean 00:43:54 Great insights. And I'm curious to see how these things continue to evolve. I've seen commercials, uh, during baseball games for like at home little boxes that do covid testing, like the P C R testing, not just the antigen testings that you can get in the little boxes from the store. So I think there's a lot of cool things that can come out of a really dark time completely shifting gears. And I think depending on how good of an audio engineer I am or not, you may have heard a little bit of some baby crying in the background <laugh> and you're really involved as one of the volunteers in the college. So what drives you to give back despite the demands of school residency and now also family life?
Kristin 00:44:31 I think it's a, it's a really deep understanding of how much I benefited from the SCHREYER community and the Penn State community at large and how much it's given me and how far I've gotten with what I was given and wanting to turn around and like help pull people into that, that level of success and happiness too. I think again, the advice and help I got from the career development office with Lisa Kresky, that's just a prime example of I wouldn't be where I'm at today without the resources of the honors program in Penn, Penn State. So I, I would do anything to help others be able to experience that as well. So it's definitely a priority on my time schedule too because I, I benefited from it. So I feel like others should also get, get some assistance.
Sean 00:45:20 I might need to quote that in some email marketing to our alumni. I think that was great. And before we go on the last third of these, if you're a regular listener, you know, I ask kind of the same questions at the back end about learning moments and mentorship, but is there anything particularly, because I know some students are gonna be listening to this specifically about the MD PhD program because it is a really in the early assurance because it is a really special opportunity for our scholars who are interested in medicine. Is there anything that I didn't ask about that you think is important to talk about in relation to seven to nine years of additional intense medical PhD education down 3 22 from University Park? Mm-hmm <affirmative> at, at Hershey, I would
Kristin 00:46:01 Say it is extremely worthwhile if you are both interested in medicine and research. One thing that hasn't come up today, but I get asked about quite frequently by students that are doing their homework and trying to figure out what programs they're applying to is about the almost financial incentive of doing an MDPH program. So for listeners that maybe are not aware, programs are usually subsidized or fully funded. And by that we mean that when you matriculate into those programs, you're on a tuition waiver, you do not pay for tuition to be in the program. Oftentimes, most if not all of these programs are also going to give you a stipend to cover living expenses. Um, it's certainly not the same as having a salary from, you know, an another job coming out of college, but it is enough to cover your rent and your food and whatnot.
Kristin 00:46:51 It is nice in the sense of you spend seven to nine years working on this, but you're not going to go into debt from loans for school while you're working on those two degrees. So that is nice that that is done that way. So a lot of students ask about that and that is a nice perk. But I would say one of the things I caution people on is don't just pick an MD PhD program because of that financial incentive. Because again, you have to really have a strong interest and feel motivated and excited about having a career that involves both medicine and research. Because without that it's gonna really be a mismatch and probably not gonna work out. 'cause you're gonna be miserable at some point. It's, it's, it's a tough journey and if you don't start out with excitement, it's not a good spot to be in. So
Sean 00:47:38 Obviously you've been glowing about this throughout our conversation. I think you're a great ambassador for the MD PhD program, but I'm sure there were some tough days. How did you kind of get through those? Because obviously not every day is gonna be rainbows and sunshine, you know, I'm sure you've had hard days with research hard days in the clinical setting with patients. How did you get through those? Get
Kristin 00:47:57 Through them with friends and family, uh, <laugh> and I think that's one of some of the importance too for students that are applying to multiple programs and then facing a selection process. A lot of our SCHREYER students are obviously very high achieving and they're great well-rounded people. So it's not a surprise that our scholars are gonna do well and get multiple offers and have to make tough decisions. So when looking at that, you wanna pick a program where you like the people and you feel like you're gonna be supported by the people. And I picked a program like that, so I really leaned on my peers and other students that were going through the process as well. The MD-PhD thing is weird because you have things in common with your med school classmates and you have things in common with your grad school classmates. You are working on PhDs but at times they just don't get certain aspects because it's, it's not like being the weird rare unicorn that is being an mdphd.
Kristin 00:48:49 So if you do a good job and you pick a good program, you'll have classmates in the MDPHD program that will understand exactly what you're going through and you can lean on each other. I benefited a lot from older students in the MD-PhD program that were really wonderful and I was able to lean on them and they were able to normalize things like, this is normal to panic about this or, you know, I also stressed about my experiments failing for three months and at some point you're going to have a breakthrough. It's okay, you just need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again tomorrow. So I think that the people is what makes it possible because you know, you'll have peers that are wonderful or mentors that are wonderful or you'll have that day when you go back to clinic and you're reminded by seeing a patient and family like why you're doing what you're doing. So those, those human interactions, your peers, your family, your friends, your patients, those are the things I think that'll keep you focused. And remotivate you, reinvigorate you after a long stretch of failed experiments or feeling like, I don't know enough in med school, like maybe I shouldn't be here. It, it's a, it's a good reminder and you come back the next day and you're like, well no, I'm gonna get better. It's gonna be okay.
Sean 00:49:58 Now I do want to pivot to that final chunk of questions here. Here's a chance for you to brag a little bit. Kristin, what would you say is your biggest success to date?
Kristin 00:50:07 I am super proud of the fact that I was able to start my family recently and we welcomed a healthy baby girl. But I think professionally it is having survived and made it through an MD PhD program because it is such a long road and a long journey. So I'm very thankful that I was able to complete both of my two degrees and I'm very, very happy that a quality program in a hospital in Cincinnati was willing to hire me and they've, they've treated me so well this year. So I feel like I've landed in a successful spot because of the degrees that I gained from Penn State College of Medicine.
Sean 00:50:43 On the flip side, what would you say has been your biggest transformational learning moment that you've experienced? You might call it a mistake or some other opportunity where you had to learn from and what you learned from that experience.
Kristin 00:50:54 A hundred percent organic chemistry in college, everybody talks about how hard it is, and I conceptually understood that. But when I got to the course my sophomore year, I did not have an easy time. I struggled immensely and I felt like I was studying hard and doing everything and it just was not working out. And eventually got to a place where I went and talked to my academic advisor and, you know, it was the best decision for me to drop the course and take a beat, think about things, look at things, reanalyze the situation, and try and come back the next semester and give it another go. And having that time after, you know, feeling like I had failed was a good thing because it, it allowed me to really analyze like how I was studying. Nobody who's gotten to Schreyer, even Penn State is a dummy.
Kristin 00:51:43 Everyone's, you know, very motivated and they are capable. It just oftentimes is about tweaking how we study or how we choose to prepare for class and, and these exams. So dropping organic chemistry felt like a failure at the time, like for the first time in my life, something was really challenging and it hadn't worked out, but I was able to kind of rework how I studied, reteach myself new, almost new strategies for how to study and how to learn. And I'm glad it happened the way it did because those strategies for studying are the things that I actually now do for medical school and for graduate school and how I think and prepare presentations for work. So it ended up being a really good thing, but it took a long time to really embrace that. I think because a lot of us in honors college are perfectionists, were high achieving. We don't want ourselves to feel like we failed on something. And so it, it personally took a long time for me to accept that too, but it worked out for the best. And I think there's a lot of feelings among med students. Like, you can't have bad grades or you can't have failures. And, but that's certainly not true. And I think as long as you learn something from it and grow from it, that is a hundred percent okay.
Sean 00:52:51 I wholeheartedly agree. And obviously you just heard somebody who has a PhD and an MD say that she had to drop a class. So, you know, you, you listening, things
Kristin 00:53:02 Happen, right? Life happens. You're allowed to stumble at times. Yeah.
Sean 00:53:06 You might fail a quiz, you might fail a test, you might have to quit a club. These things happen. So I, and you can still be successful. Kristin, here, you're a great example of that. So I thank you for sharing the story about Ocam. I'm sure many scholars can relate to that specific course from everything I've ever heard about it. It's
Kristin 00:53:23 Tough. It's definitely tough. They, they, but they do it for good reasons. They really wanna push you so that you can get better.
Sean 00:53:30 Absolutely. Now you've previously won our outstanding Scholar alumni mentor award, so I think you're very well placed to answer this question. And we've talked a lot about it from the scientific perspective, but maybe brought in a little bit here for your answer. How do you approach mentorship, both as a mentor and an award-winning one at that? And as a mentee who's still, you know, relatively early in your career, how should students seek out these opportunities and make the most of being a mentor and a mentee? I
Kristin 00:53:57 Think one of the things that I misunderstood when I was starting out as an undergraduate scholar was that I was somehow going to be a burden or an annoyance to somebody who was in the professional realm. Like these are people that have their lives together and they're super smart or they're super successful. And here I am as a college student, like what do I know? And I'm not even sure what questions to ask, like I don't wanna bother them. And that was kind of the framework that I was working from. So now as a, a mentor, I look, I look back on that and I try and provide as much reassurance from the get go. Like, this is totally fine, we've been through it, we've been there. Please do not hesitate. I personally with my mentees, try and give them my cell phone number and try and make sure it feels more of like a collegial relationship because I'm like, especially if you're trying to pursue med school or grad school, like you're gonna end up in the same workforce in the same circles that I'm in.
Kristin 00:54:51 We're gonna be colleagues someday. So I don't want you to feel intimidated or like there's any question that's too big or too small or too in intimidating to ask. And that's definitely how I was treated when I was mentored as well. Like I came in being nervous or concerned that I was gonna be a pester or a painter or a bother not know the right things to ask. And the people that mentored me, or the folks that Lisa Kki connected me with, they were very, very accommodating, very humble, very open. And I had that modeled for me. So now I just think about those interactions that I had and benefited from and try and hopefully do a good job putting other scholars who are currently going through these things at ease and realizing that, you know, all the alumni were in your corner, we're rooting for you. We have memories of how hard these classes were and our personal failures And, and, and going through that process of trying to figure out what am I gonna do with my life? I need to get an internship. Like we've been there. And so we're, we're really just trying to help you and help you should reach out because I don't know a single Penn Stater who's not wanted to chat with a current student before. So we're here and we're waiting so please, please hit us up. Please talk to us.
Sean 00:56:04 I really just need to like clip that part out into its own little marketing message for our mentoring programs. I think that was stellar. Kristin, speaking of those faults that have had an impact on you, are there any professors, friends or other faults from your scholar days that you want to give a shout out to?
Kristin 00:56:19 Absolutely. So my research mentor Isabella Kaori was fantastic. She was such a, a role model and just like this fierce female faculty member that, you know, we say mentorship, but I think what she did for me was on a level of advocacy. She would find opportunities and also pump me up. She would give me like almost like a pep talk while she was presenting them. She'd be like, I found this, you're gonna apply for it, you're gonna do great. This is how you're well suited for it. And I was like, I didn't even know that I had those skills. Like you're you, she saw things in me that I didn't know were there or like helped culture those and bring those out. And so I'm forever grateful for that type of mentorship. I think that was truly exceptional. I also had, you know, great support from a lot of the College of Ag faculty.
Kristin 00:57:08 Dr. Paulson taught my intro immunology course and he was great. He, you could tell he was excited about the stuff and there are some topics that even immunology majors we, we don't like to have to learn. And he would try his hardest to make it interesting and succeeded at that. So, you know, there, there were so many wonderful people. And then in honors community, you know, I've al already mentioned Lisa was fantastic and I'd be here all day listing off all the other scholars and current friends from the blue band and from tho you know, it's, it could go on and on for days, but I think the takeaway message is that there was this large community of people that were rooting for me and hoping for my success.
Sean 00:57:48 That's great. And I'll again echo, if you need to connect with Lisa Kti or any of the college staff, feel free to reach out to us. We're here to support you. Just like Kristin said, it's a community and you can do that on shc.psu.edu/appointments. Feel free to check that out and book a time with some of us if you need assistance with something. Now as we're wrapping up our time, is there any final advice? I already asked you about this specifically for the PhD MD program, but is there any final piece of advice that you wanted to share with our scholars that didn't come up already in our conversation today?
Kristin 00:58:19 I would just say, say yes to things. At times I would feel I like I, I don't know how to do this research or I don't know how to do this project or I don't know how to, you know, whatever X is fill, fill in the blank. Um, so say yes to things but say yes and say I'd love to but I don't know how. And I feel like if you say yes and you're honest with people, you'd be surprised how far that'll get you because just showing interest and and honesty at times will get you really far and people are willing to show you the ropes and give you a chance. So say yes and ask for help. You
Sean 00:58:54 Alluded to this earlier, now I'm gonna ask the logistics question. If scholars wanna reach out to you, how can they connect with you?
Kristin 00:58:59 Absolutely. So I am on LinkedIn, I check that quite frequently and I also have, I'm on Twitter and then my email address as well, which I believe the honors college has and can provide if anybody wants to reach out and connect. And Lisa has that information too, <laugh>. So please any of those means I'm happy to always chat with any current students, alumni or prospective students even,
Sean 00:59:23 Which we definitely thank you for. You're a great resource for our students, prospective students and alumni. So appreciate that Kristin. Now finally our last question here. If you were a flavor of Burke Creamery ice cream, which would you be not your favorite, but which would you be? And most importantly as a scholar alumna, why would you be that flavor?
Kristin 00:59:42 So I had to think about this really hard and I'm glad you gave me a heads up 'cause it gave me time to mull it over. But it would probably be the lion's s'more flavor because that one actually is blue and white, like bright blue and white. And I feel like as somebody who did four years of Penn State undergrad and then seven years of the Penn State MD PhD, I am a Penn State lifer. I bleed blue and white, so I would pick the blue and white ice cream, the the lion's s'mores.
Sean 01:00:10 We can add a new flavor to the tally marks that I need to put together at some point. Uh, happy to hear a new one. That's a great rationale. You were in the blue band and countless years on campus in University Park and in Hershey. So I think that's a great reason. Dr. Kristin Lambert at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, our 2014 Ag grad and several times over College of Medicine grad from the MD PhD program. You're a great resource for our students. Thank you so much for joining us here today on Following the Gong.
Kristin 01:00:39 Absolutely. Thank you for having me, Sean.
*GONG SOUND EFFECT*
Sean 01:00:48 Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
. Until next time, please stay well and We Are!