5 Questions for First-Year Research Assistants: Kaetlyn Arant

This is the second in a series of interviews we are conducting with each of our first-year research assistants about their OrACORe experience so far.

Kaetlyn Arant joined OrACORe as a research assistant after graduating from Amherst College in 2019 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in biochemistry and biophysics and French. Kaetlyn’s previous research experience was primarily in basic science. She worked for several years in a Colorado lab developing a rapid diagnostic test for malaria. While there, her primary focus was ensuring the stability of compounds for high temperatures and developing standard curves for the quantification of parasites. When she wasn’t in the lab, Kaetlyn was often singing, either in the Amherst choir or her a cappella group, or hiking.

Kaetlyn hails from Colorado and enjoys hiking and backpacking. Her favorite spot is Zirkel Wilderness, with its scenic Gilpin Lake (photo courtesy of Arant).

1. What about this research assistant position attracted you to it?

“There were two main things. One was the huge range of activities and tasks this job includes. Being able to do 15 different things within a week was really important to me because I didn’t want to get bored. It’s also been important in thinking about a career. I always knew that I wanted to be involved in the medical field, but as a biochemistry major, I figured I would be contributing from the lab bench. After realizing that this wasn’t the career for me, I was struggling to figure out where I fit in within the health care system. Having all of these different responsibilities has really allowed me to see a lot of the ways in which I could be involved in medicine and the many career paths I could pursue.

Secondly, they really emphasized writing in my interview here, which is something that’s always been important to me. Having the opportunity to see all the facets of medicine and conduct research is great. But I also get to write grants, do qualitative analysis and all these other things that most research jobs out of college don’t include.”

2. What’s a typical week on the job for you?

“No two days are the same. But on average, I spend two days in clinic recruiting patients for the TeMPO study. I follow a couple physicians through the day, after having identified which of their patients might be eligible. If a patient is eligible for the study and might be a good candidate, I speak with them and try to get them interested in enrolling.

When I’m not working on TeMPO, I work on several different projects, some of which are just getting up and running and others which are going strong! I work on SHielD, which is mostly data collection, sending out surveys, and speaking with participants. I’m also helping Dr. [Lindsey] MacFarlane on her new grant, which is focused on the role of adipose tissue and inflammation in osteoarthritis. Additionally, I’m about to get started on STrIDeS, which is a qualitative research project examining physician advice for how patients should proceed when they have spinal metastasis.”

3. What do you like most about being a research assistant at OrACORe?

“The thing I love most is interacting with physicians. For me, as someone who is kind of unsure about my next steps, observing physicians in their day-to-day and seeing what it really is like to be a doctor has been invaluable to me. It’s helped confirm my love of medicine and encouraged me to apply to medical school. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best physicians. Drs. [Gary] Ferguson and [Tamara] Martin have been great — they’ll pull me aside and show me x-rays or explain how fluid fills a Baker’s cyst, and they always take the time to give me thoughtful advice or offer me stories about their own experiences. To have those mentors has been really incredible. I’ve learned a ton, and I look forward to going to work every day. I know that I’m going to be productive and am going to leave every day having learned something new. That’s what makes this job so special.”

Kaetlyn worked for many years at MBio Diagnostics, Inc. in Boulder, CO, where she helped develop a semi-quantitative malaria assay (photo courtesy of Arant).

4. What’s one thing you’ve learned in the past month here that either changed the way you understand health care or influenced you in some other way?

“I never thought I would learn so much sitting in Rheumatology rounds! One thing that I hadn’t realized was the number of moving parts that go into treating every patient. Rounds focuses on more difficult cases, but it has been eye-opening to see just how many people are collaborating on each patient and how much social factors influence the way a patient is treated. Physicians have to think about insurance and whether a patient will show up to their clinic appointment in three weeks, and these factors may ultimately change how the physician chooses to treat the patient.

Secondly, I was surprised in Rheumatology rounds by how often cases are a guessing game in the beginning. You can have five different physicians who all have a somewhat different differential. Obviously, there’s some consensus. But they all have different ways in which they would treat the patient. I thought it was more cut-and-dried, but it’s not as easy as it seems! I also didn’t realize how often doctors consult the literature.”

5. What are your plans post-OrACORe?

“I just recently decided that I am going to take the plunge and go to medical school. I’m currently studying for the MCAT, which is a task in and of itself.

As for a medical career, research has always been something that I’ve gravitated towards, so I would like to have that be part of my day-to-day as a clinician. What kind of research is still something I need to figure out and will only come with experience. Definitely some research, though!”