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From Intern to Biologist



From Intern to Biologist

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

Thanks to an internship at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), Anastasia Gromova has gone from curious college student to budding cell biologist.

Back in 2009, Gromova was searching for research positions online when she found an internship opportunity at TSRI. Gromova, at the time an undergraduate at the University of San Diego, wanted to learn more about cell biology and leapt at the chance to work in a TSRI lab.

“That just kicked off my whole research career,” said Gromova.

Gromova’s internship brought her into the lab of Helen Makarenkova, assistant professor of neurobiology at TSRI, where the two teamed up to study the power of stem cell-like “progenitor” cells to repair tissue.

From the beginning, starting from Gromova’s resume, Makarenkova was impressed with her attention to detail. “This is the most important thing about research. You have to be very observant,” said Makarenkova.

Gromova didn’t just want to know the inner workings of cells, she also wanted to learn the intricacies of the technologies she’d be using. Working at TSRI gave her a chance to meet core facilities staff, ask questions and learn how to set up complex experiments.

Gromova also learned important skills outside the lab. “Dr. Makarenkova encouraged me to make professional connections, sent me to meetings so I would learn how to present my work in a poster, and helped me develop skills to write applications for fellowships,” said Gromova.

These efforts led Gromova to win back-to-back fellowships from the San Diego Biotechnology Employee Development Coalition in 2009 and 2010.

By the end of the internship, Makarenkova said, a cell biologist was born.

“She was so good that she could basically run the lab,” said Makarenkova.

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Gromova worked as a research technician in the Makarenkova lab and then moved to the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute for further research experience.

Today, Gromova is completing her PhD at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego), where she has been awarded funding through the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Meanwhile, she and Makarenkova continue to collaborate. They’ve published five papers together so far, including a recent study in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, for which Gromova was first author, that explored ways to use progenitor cells to repair the eye’s lacrimal gland—an advance that could someday help patients with painful forms of chronic dry eye.

Gromova’s goal is to run her own lab. The academic side of science appeals to her, especially opportunity to mentor her own students.

“I’m already honing those skills now with an undergraduate student from UC San Diego,” Gromova said.

For more information on internships at TSRI, visit

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An internship at TSRI inspired Anastasia Gromova to pursue science. (Photo by Cindy Brauer.)