My Summer of Research at Cornell

Hi, I'm Katie Lin, and this is my experience as a summer research student at Cornell University. In June, I finished my 3rd year of medical school at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. After an application process of several months through the Study Abroad Foundation, I was matched to an assistant professor of epigenetics and gene regulation at the Baker Institute and the College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University in Ithaca. I will spend 6 weeks at his lab, assisting with the projects his lab team is currently undertaking.

Week one

After a 16-hour flight from Shanghai (with a stressful canceled connecting flight and an overnight stay in New Jersey in between), I finally arrived at Ithaca airport, possibly the smallest airport I’ve ever visited. I was greeted by Kristin Blake, program coordinator for visiting international students at Cornell, who made me feel at home immediately.

First, she took me to Day Hall to get my Student ID and to set up my Cornell NetID and password.I learned that your student ID will let you into your dormitory building, pay for food around campus, and do your laundry. Your NetID is basically your identification number at Cornell, and how you log into your Cornell email and the rest of Cornell’s websites.

Kristin drove me and my two giant suitcases to West Campus, where we checked into my new dorm room in Hans Bethe House. Typically, each dormitory house has several floors. On each floor, there may be single rooms, double rooms (shared by 2 students), suites (4 single rooms + separate living room area + bathroom), and shared bathrooms (male, female, and gender neutral). Each house also has a communal kitchen area, laundry room, lots of study spaces, conference rooms, and a dining hall. During the summer, these dining halls are usually closed.

Most summer students eat at the All-You-Care-To-Eat Dining Halls, such as Keeton Hall, or other cafes and eateries on campus. Information about where to eat and when restaurants are open can be found on the Cornell Dining Now website. Using the Get Funds website, you can add money to your Student ID to eat in these dining halls, make purchases in cafes, or do your laundry.

My first impression of the Cornell campus is that it is very big and beautiful, with trees and grassy fields everywhere you go. Cornell is originally an agricultural school, so Cornell has its own dairy farms (Cornell makes its own ice cream!), grazing areas for horses and sheep, and fruit orchards. Distances between campuses are long enough that it is necessary to take buses or cars. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that fragrances should not be worn outdoors, as it really attracts flying insects.

Week two

My experience at the Baker Institute for Animal Health has been nothing short of phenomenal so far. The professors, technicians, software engineers and grad students at my lab are all extremely welcoming and willing to teach. Most of them do dry lab work, focusing on projects that study gene regulation using computational biology. However, I am assisting a graduate student with her research in genomic engineering and effects of evolution on the human immune system.

I usually start my day by reading papers and do wet lab work in the afternoon. This includes cell counting, DNA extraction, PCR, CRISPR, and more, which are all performed in a lab coat and gloves, in a biosafety cabinet. The lab members also meet a few times during the week to discuss ongoing projects and to analyze any presentations and papers. All in all, it’s a very exciting learning experience and enjoyable way to spend the summer.

I like to use my free time on the weekends to explore Ithaca. The TCAT website ( has all the information you need for getting around Ithaca by bus. 

Now, let’s talk about some of the popular places around town. Collegetown is to the south of Cornell’s West and Central Campuses, and it is a favorite hangout for many Cornell students. There, you can find the uber-popular Collegetown Bagels, which sells bagels, sandwiches, pastries, grab-to- go foods, smoothies and more. Next door, there is a huge 7-11 where you can buy fast food, groceries, and essentials for the dorm. On the same street (College Ave) is Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Insomnia Cookies.

Then, you have the Shops at Ithaca Mall, where you can buy everything else you need for dormitory living and more. There is a huge Target, where I would suggest investing in a Brita water purifier, some dining utensils, and a laundry basket. Outside of Target, among the bigger stores are the Bonton, Ultimate Athletics, Best Buy, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, and ULTA Beauty. There is also a movie theatre (Regal Cinemas), a gym (Planet Fitness) and food court.

There’s always a line for Auntie Anne’s freshly baked pretzels and pretzel dogs at the food court. I won’t go into too much detail about downtown Ithaca (also known as the Commons) as I haven’t spent much time there yet, but there is a public library and many nice restaurants. Lastly, there is a small shopping area close to campus called East Hill Plaza, with a grocery store, pharmacy, gym, liquor store, and more restaurants.

~ From Katie Lin, an SAF Student Correspondent