Will Richardson ’21 is spending his summer working in the clinical pharmacology program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) through a research fellowship. This program, he said, is responsible for pharmacokinetic studies on phase one and two cancer trials; in other words, performing pharmacological analysis on blood samples from around the country to assist numerous treatment processes.
Richardson serves as an analytical chemist. On a typical day, he begins with a team meeting before preparing assay plates for a mass spectrometer, which scans the samples to determine drug concentrations. “It’s a lot of pipetting,” he said. The purpose of this work is to give physicians and primary care providers the tools to make the best possible cancer treatment plans for their patients.
As a native of Bethesda, Md., where the NCI is headquartered, Richardson said he always wanted to do a summer research program at the institute. To apply, he first had to enter his information into a database with other would-be researchers. “It was my responsibility to contact principal investigators,” he noted. “There’s like a thousand labs, so you basically have to cold call people.” Soon enough, someone noticed him on the database, reached out, and, following an interview, hired him.
Hometown: Bethesda, Md.
High School: Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
Richardson described how the lab experience he gained at Hamilton has already been vital at the NCI. “Since I’m scanning things, sensitivity matters to such a degree that it would have been difficult to do the work I’m doing now without any lab experience … every little thing matters, and if you mess up even a little bit the whole experiment fails.”
More specifically, Richardson mentioned Professor Max Majireck’s Drug Discovery course as one that provided him with knowledge relevant to the NCI position. “It lent itself toward how this process works,” he said, once again highlighting the value of time spent in the lab doing the same sort of analytical chemistry he now does at the institute.
While it is only a temporary stop on his professional journey, Richardson said that the NCI is very supportive of research fellows who, like him, plan to attend either graduate or medical school after leaving Bethesda. “You can even take classes while you’re here,” he said. “The NIH is literally like a campus — it’s crazy.”
Right now, he is hoping to enter a dual M.D.-Ph.D. program in the near future, which would allow him to become a research physician, meaning he could continue with research in addition to seeing patients. “I just don’t know how to get there yet,” he admitted.
All the same, Richardson acknowledged he is in a good place to figure it out. “The NIH is one of the biggest hubs for people who do medically related research,” he explained. “I figured that this would be a very valuable way for me to speak to people and find out about what actual paths lay before me.”