When Jackie Stewart accepted her dream job with the Frederick National Laboratory’s Laboratory Animal Sciences Program (LASP) last year, it wasn’t the first time she had set foot on the sprawling campus owned by NCI at Frederick, the national lab’s government sponsor and partner.
Stewart had spent the 2007–2008 school year and every summer and winter from 2008–2011 as a student intern at the Frederick National Laboratory and NCI at Frederick, which helped her discover her professional passion for laboratory animal medicine—and, though she didn’t know it at the time, her “forever home.”
“Had I not done that internship so many years ago, I would never have known how much I love research, or that the field of laboratory animal medicine even exists,” she said.
As an intern several times over, Stewart was able to explore different scientific disciplines and nurture her interest in research. She spent her first internship in the Laboratory of Molecular Technology (now the Genomics Laboratory), performing genotyping under the guidance of her mentors, Jim Cherry, Ph.D., and Jessica Roelkey. Later opportunities allowed her to branch out into molecular diagnostics and genomics.
Along the way, she received additional mentorship from Dave Munroe, Ph.D.; Xiaolin Wu, Ph.D.; Kristen Pike; Teri Plona; Scott Coccodrilli; Nicole Shrader; and Nina Bubunenko.
“Having the opportunity to bounce around between different research groups was something I really enjoyed, as it exposed me to many areas of research and gave me the opportunity to learn multiple technical skills,” Stewart said.
After completing her final internship and graduating from college in 2011, Stewart decided to use her skills as a veterinary technician, fulfilling her childhood love for animals and veterinary medicine. She worked at a veterinary general practice and an emergency overnight practice. She later moved to Baltimore, where she held nonclinical laboratory positions that included working with research animals in psychiatry and behavioral sciences as well as radiation oncology and molecular and radiation sciences.
However, she soon began to miss the clinical aspect of veterinary medicine. That was when her thoughts turned to NCI at Frederick and the Frederick National Laboratory.
“From my time as an intern, I knew that the Frederick National Laboratory had a sizeable laboratory animal program, and [I] wanted to find a position that was more focused on laboratory animal medicine. That way I could combine my passion for animal medicine and research,” she said.
Today, Stewart is a veterinary associate with LASP’s Laboratory Animal Medicine team, a role she describes as “fast paced, challenging, and incredibly rewarding.” In her spare time, she has been pursuing a master’s degree in laboratory animal science.
Stewart has also helped to mentor student interns since she joined LASP, giving back to the to the program that helped her.
“When I interviewed for my position within LASP, I explained that I was looking for my forever home,” Stewart said. “My plan is to stay here. ... The people are wonderful, caring, and so very talented.”