I have always been a curious person who enjoys the whys, the hows and the why nots, so it was no big surprise that my childhood curiosities developed into a career in the field of science. But practicing science at a place like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where scientists can see the results of their research translated into the clinic to benefit patients, is a dream fulfilled that I am thankful for each day.
One of my earliest scientific endeavors was a project I entered in my first science fair. I was in fifth grade, and my project involved figuring out the rate of water absorption in crops. I can’t remember where I got the idea from, but I remember that I was really proud of it—seeing how the plants grew and how much water was needed.
Throughout high school and college, my interest in science blossomed, and when I had a chance to come to St. Jude as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2009, I jumped at the opportunity. My intention was to get as much training as possible, and then move on to another institution, but something surprising happened: I enjoyed working at St. Jude so much that I wanted to stay. I liked that everything at St. Jude is science-driven and innovative.
Three years ago, I transitioned to my current role as a research lab specialist in the Pathology Department. One of our lab’s research priorities involves extracting the DNA or RNA from tumor samples stored in our hospital’s Tissue Bank. That’s where my job comes in—validating whether the tumor is caused by a mutation or a fusion gene, and seeing if that is the driving factor of the tumor. Finding the cause and a method of how to treat a tumor is one way St. Jude translates science from the lab into the clinic.
I am grateful to work in an environment like St. Jude, where everyone has a sense of purpose and works toward a goal. For me, I don’t focus on what I cannot do, but I look at what I can do because we do science that saves lives.
We all have different areas of expertise. There are things I do well, and some things I may not be good at, but I don’t feel embarrassed to ask a St. Jude colleague for help. I enjoy working in this environment, and I’m thankful for it. St. Jude has accomplished a great deal and will continue to make huge strides in the future, but it’s not about the accolades and achievements. Our work—as scientists, physicians and staff members—is about saving lives.
Wilda Orisme, PhD, is a research lab specialist in the Pathology Department.