Reflecting Back On Our Summer Fellowships: Inspiring a Future Generation

Fall is quickly winding down into winter here in Minnesota. Before too many snowflakes fall, we wanted to provide an update on summer Student Research Fellowships.  Aimed at inspiring and cultivating the next generation of researchers dedicated to the lupus cause, Lupus Link Minnesota awarded two students a summer opportunity to work with accomplished researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, respectively, on lupus-related autoimmune research.  Below, we share a conversation with one of the recipients, Thomas Blankespoor, as he reflects on his summer fellowship at the University of Minnesota, sharing his experience, what he learned and his passion for the future.  


Interviewer: What was the highlight of your summer fellowship?

Thomas: The highlight of my summer fellowship was being around and partnering with different researchers whom all specialize in a distinct part of the field of Immunology. The way that other researchers involved me in their research projects as well as invested in mine made the experience very informative and beneficial. 


Interviewer:  What three adjectives would you use to describe the summer fellowship experience?

Thomas: Educational, Communal, and Valuable 


Interviewer: Was there anything that surprised you about the experience? Anything unexpected?

Thomas:  What surprised me most was the technological advancements that researchers have at their disposal. Being a researcher isn’t just about being an expert in your field, it’s about being curious and creative with the machinery you have in pursuit of answering a research question.  


Interviewer:  What’s one thing you learned this summer?

Thomas:  This summer, I learned about the interactions between B cells, T cells, and other immunological cells, as well as how these interactions are manipulated in different autoimmune disease. I was also able to see first-hand the vital role that test animals such as mice have in modeling different cellular responses and diseases.

Interviewer:  What do you want the community to know about your summer fellowship experience? 

Thomas:  It was an incredible opportunity to spend my summer conducting research at the University of Minnesota, but even more, it gave me a passion for the future. This experience stimulated a passion for science and discovery in a way that none of my learning has.


Interviewer:  What do you want the community to know about autoimmune disease research?

Thomas: Of everything I learned this summer, two main aspects stuck with me. First, autoimmune diseases are very complex and challenging research topics. It took a good chunk of my summer just to understand the immunological terminology and the issues with autoimmune tolerance. Secondly, the type of research that is being done in this field is nothing short of amazing. The progress that researchers are making in the area of Immunology through years of refining gives me tremendous hope about research breakthroughs in the future.


Interviewer:  What are your plans after finishing the summer fellowship? 

Thomas:  I am currently finishing my senior year at Bethel University studying Biochemistry and applying for medical school.

Interviewer:  What are your career aspirations?

Thomas:  Before this summer fellowship, I knew that I wanted to attend medical school and become a doctor. Now, because of this fellowship opportunity, I am excited about the many possibilities related to research. I plan to continue to pursue research in the field of Immunology as I study medicine. 


We wish Thomas the best in his future aspirations.  His experience inspires us to believe that the next generation is not only committed but actively pursuing lupus research, hopefully moving us closer to the next breakthrough.