Published August 22, 2019 by Rebecca Goldfine

Not Yet a First-Year, but Already Working to Find a Cure

Joki Wallace ’23 spent the summer before his first year at Bowdoin interning with a Maine-based lab that's investigating macular degeneration, a leading cause of age-related blindness.
Joki Wallace at Jackson Lab
Joki Wallace at Jackson Lab this summer

His internship at Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, was transformative. Yes, Wallace mastered technical lab skills. And yes, he was able to observe and participate in a collaborative, professional team of scientists doing groundbreaking research.

But perhaps the most important lesson came from working alongside people who are passionate about their jobs. "I have seen what happens when people love what they are doing," he said recently by phone. "It showed me the benefit and necessity of having people committed to this kind of field." 

He's one of those people. Ever since he was a middle school student, he's loved science, particularly chemistry (the study of molecules) and biology (the study of living systems). He hopes one day to become a physician. "I love biochemistry because it allows us to understand the mechanisms that make our world tick," he said. 

The lab Wallace joined this summer is developing mouse models that exhibit the phenotypes of humans with macular degeneration. With these mice, scientists can test for genetic and environmental factors that influence the onset of the disease.

"I chose Bowdoin because the students are not only friendly, but they really seem to create a collaborative atmosphere where people are there to learn about what they love, and to find out about the things they didn't know they would love." — Joki Wallace ’23

Wallace, who grew up in Manchester, Maine, discovered the summer opportunity by searching online for science internships that accepted high school students. He was offered a stipend and lived in a dormitory (rather, a converted mansion called High Seas). His housemates were mostly college students.

The lab's staff numbers more than 2,000. Wallace said he was inspired by the many conversations he had with some of his fellow researchers about their past and current projects, from developing new cancer treatments to advancing genetic mapping. 

"It was awesome to have this community of people all interested in the same thing, which is understanding our most pressing biomedical challenges," he said.

He said he's looking forward to starting college at Bowdoin in a couple of weeks and connecting with Bowdoin's biochemistry professors. The science faculty often hire student lab assistants throughout the year and during the summer—an opportunity Wallace said he's very interested in.

"This summer was the first time I was able to experience research day in and day out, for ten weeks, nine to five, Monday to Friday," he said. "With that, I realized I definitely want research to accompany my studies."