By Lauren Ingeno
A new online project is giving prospective and current students a behind-the-scenes look into biomedical research laboratories at the George Washington University.
LabTV, founded by TEDMED chairman and entrepreneur Jay Walker, is an online initiative intended to attract young people—especially women and minorities—to the field of biomedical research through short, student-produced YouTube videos.
Mr. Walker and LabTV Executive Producer David Hoffman chose 100 colleges and universities from around the country with National Institutes of Health-sponsored research labs, including GW, to pilot the project. LabTV then reached out to the institutions, looking for undergraduate filmmakers interested in producing videos. Students who submitted an application were assigned a researcher to profile.
“LabTV is about exciting a generation of high school and college students to consider medical research as profession,” Mr. Hoffman said. The independent filmmaker has produced hundreds of documentary television series for stations like PBS, Discovery and the History Channel. “Most people who want to become professionals think about becoming a doctor, lawyer, professor—few think about medical research. We decided we wanted to change that. And if you can’t see it, then you can’t be it.”
Sara Jenis, a sophomore in the School of Media and Public Affairs, saw in an SMPA newsletter that LabTV was searching for student filmmakers. Having just completed an Introduction to Digital Media and Production course, she decided to apply. She was assigned to profile the lab of Sally Moody, a professor of anatomy and regenerative biology in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
In Dr. Moody’s lab, she explains in the video, researchers are interested in discovering novel genes that are expressed in the embryo during the development of the nervous system. This research could lead to the discovery of the causes of birth defects and other neurodegenerative disease mechanisms. The video also highlights undergraduate research assistants, who discuss their roles in the lab and how they became interested in conducting research.
Ms. Jenis said she hopes her video will show other GW undergraduates one of the many research opportunities available to them during their academic career.
"Just by observing the lab for two days and hearing the experiences of the researchers, I was truly inspired,” she said. “I hope that through my video, I am able to inspire other students to get involved in research.”
Throughout the creation of her project, Mr. Hoffman provided a template, mentorship and suggestions to Ms. Jenis. LabTV projects are ideal for novice filmmakers, who may still be honing in on their skills and identifying their interests, Mr. Hoffman said.
During the Tribeca Film Festival, held in Manhattan in April, Mr. Walker and Mr. Hoffman awarded $16,000 in cash prizes to the student filmmakers with the most promising videos. Ms. Jenis was awarded $1,000 and the “Outstanding Lab Profile Award” for her video featuring Dr. Moody’s lab.
A select number of LabTV videos are already posted on the project’s YouTube channel. In fall 2014, LabTV will launch its website, which will allow students to search for specific researchers based on their demographic information and scientific interests.
SMPA student Anahi Ruiz is currently working on a video featuring the lab of Paul Brindley, scientific director of the Research Center for Neglected Diseases of Poverty in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
LabTV is still searching for filmmakers to feature other biomedical labs at GW. Interested undergraduate students can apply by submitting a filmmaker application.
View Ms. Jenis’ award-winning video: