Opening New Doors: Former Summer Scholar prepares for graduate school at Duke


Brielle-Anne Michel is preparing for her next adventure. She will soon trade in her cap and gown from Wake Forest University for a lab coat in the Duke University Program in Genetics and Genomics (UPGG). Michel spent the summer of 2022 at Duke University as part of the Summer Scholars Program in Genome Sciences and Medicine for Underrepresented in STEM.

Working in the lab of Hiroaki Matsunami, PhD, professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, Michel was part of a project that aimed to engineer and test olfactory receptors that show robust cell surface expression and maintain the ligand selectivity of their corresponding native receptors. The group expected that changing the structure of these receptors would help overcome problems of low expression within non-olfactory cells in biochemical experiments. “My job was to clone the olfactory receptors and test them to see if they would work using mammalian cells,” Michel said. “I did a lot of cell work, cell culture, luciferase assays, fluorescence-activated cell sorting, and had a lot of hands-on lab bench work.”

Since then, Michel has gone on to major in biochemistry and molecular biology, graduating in May 2024. In Fall 2023, she presented a poster, "Investigating the Effects of TcdA and sulfur reductants on the formation of tRNA modification ct6A," at two conferences, the Southeast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS) in Durham, and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) in Phoenix. She won awards at both.

“The SERMAC conference was my first conference ever, which was pretty intimidating,” Michel said. “But the Summer Scholars Program trained me in how to speak to people who may not know my science and gave me the skillsets of how to design a poster.”

Michel also has some advice for new Summer Scholars: Come in with an open mind. “No matter what lab you end up in, enjoy the new experiences, new opportunities, new everything.”

She also encourages scholars to take the opportunity to explore Duke, get to know your peers, and foster new relationships. “When I was applying to graduate schools this past fall, I reached out to two of the grad students who had mentored me,” Michel said. “They were more than willing to help me, and when I told them I got into the UPGG Program, they were ecstatic and let me know I could ask them any questions I had about grad school.”

But most importantly, she wants new Summer Scholars to remember they are here for a reason, even if they feel unprepared. “When I entered the program, I had less than a year of lab experience under my belt, and many other people in my cohort had never had a research experience at all,” she said. “The Summer Scholars Program trains you from the bottom up.”

The Summer Scholars Program in Genome Sciences and Medicine is funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute. The 2024 Summer Scholars Program will run from May 20 – July 26.