Faces of IICD: Henry Kotkin, SRP Alumnus

Editor's note:

Faces of IICD is a newly created blog series to allow our members to share more about their career paths and personal stories.

Henry Kotkin, edited by Lorenza Favrot
January 08, 2024

Henry Kotkin is a senior at Kenyon College, double majoring in chemistry and economics with a minor in French. He participated in the 2023 IICD Summer Research Program (SRP). In the latest "Faces of IICD" blog series, Henry shares his experience in the SRP and how it contributed to his career goal.

In high school I had a great teacher in chemistry, and the subject came naturally to me. I also really liked how I could use my chemistry knowledge to explain the world around me. Before joining the IICD Summer Research Program, the pandemic limited my opportunities to take science lab classes in person or to have research experience. I was not able to enjoy the few lab classes I attended as much as I had hoped and I started to think that chemistry may not be the right field for me. However, my passion for learning about chemistry and science in general remained despite the challenges. I decided to participate in a summer research program as a test for me - could I see myself dedicating my life to research? 

When researching summer programs, I found the IICD SRP. While familiarizing myself with the work of various mentors during the application process, I realized quickly that the type of research there was uniquely fascinating. The opportunity to engage with some of the most brilliant researchers ultimately pushed me to choose to participate in the program. I joined the lab of Dr. José McFaline-Figueroa, whose research focuses on transcriptomics and the effects of genetic perturbations in cancer cells.

I have so many great memories from the summer program, but the best ones came from casual conversations with other lab members and SRP interns. Discussing career paths and projects with graduate students gave me a much clearer picture of what life could be like beyond undergrad. I also loved hearing about other students’ projects. Besides, I enjoyed being in the research lab setting much more than I anticipated. We also had some fantastic seminars and visits throughout the summer, which added to the program's overall experience.

The montage displays three photos. Clockwise description: Henry preparing an SDS-PAGE gel on a lab bench at Kenyon College, Henry looking at some cells in a microscope in Dr. José McFaline-Figueroa’s lab, an SRP seminar where a group of eight students sitting around a table listen to Dr. Itsik Pe’er presenting his research on a screen.

One of my proudest moments during the program came from my research. My project involved processing genomics data using R, which I had used only minimally in the past. As a result, I struggled sometimes, including plenty of coding errors and setbacks. Seeing a relatively long-term goal take shape in the end was really satisfying for me, especially when this led to presenting my research at a Columbia-wide poster symposium. It was exciting to share my work with others and see what my peers had been working on during their summer programs.

Following the program, I became increasingly interested in biochemistry and biology-related topics. I started helping on a project focused on determining protein structure-function relationships and mechanisms in Dr. Kerry Rouhier’s lab at Kenyon, something I probably would not have pushed myself to do without my experience at the IICD. Participating in the SRP was a valuable learning experience. It taught me that everybody has something to contribute, regardless of background or expertise. As an intern with little prior engineering or biology experience, joining a biomedical engineering lab was sometimes challenging. Still, the knowledge and skills I gained reassured me in my pursuit of a career in STEM and gave me a clearer picture of what research meant for me and my future.