Central senior overcomes change in plans

When it comes time to apply to colleges later this year, Hinsdale Central junior Shivani Rao's list of accomplishments will include presenting her own medical research study at the American Society of Hematology's annual meeting.

Rao planned to spend the summer of 2020 in a laboratory as part of her summer Science Inquiry and Research class at Hinsdale Central. With classrooms, laboratories and most other things closed due to COVID-19, Rao found a way to complete the class without leaving home. Working with Dr. Shivi Jain, assistant professor of internal medicine, director of diagnostic bone marrow services and co-director of the benign hematology program at Rush University Medical Center, Rao spent her summer researching whether blood type affects the risk of thrombosis in patients with COVID-19, all from her home computer.

As a student embarking on her first research experience, Rao said she expected to act as an assistant to a professional researcher. Instead, her virtual experience allowed her to take the lead.

"My mentor was super supportive. She just let me run with it," Rao said. "It was really cool for me to be given the data and to be able to make connections on my own for that."

She spent the summer studying the medical records of more than 500 COVID-19 patients, 102 of whom suffered from thrombosis and 400 who did not. In the end, her research found no correlation between blood type and risk of thrombosis, or blood clots.

"We didn't find a difference," Rao said.

Rao said students who take Science Inquiry and Research are required to find their own mentor to oversee their research. Her first plan fell through due to COVID-19 closures, and although it wasn't what she expected, Rao said her partnership with Jain taught her lessons that go beyond any classroom or laboratory.

Though research can involve long hours spent alone in a laboratory, or in Rao's case, behind a computer screen, she learned that it's almost never the work of a single person. Rao said the experience with Jain taught her to ask for help when needed - and to accept help where it's offered.

"Teamwork makes the dream work, honestly," Rao said.

Prior to this experience, Rao said she had never really considered a career in research. As the daughter of two physicians, she had only considered the clinical roles in medicine. Now, she's adding research to her long list of career possibilities.

"This taught me that research is really interesting," she said.

This year, as she embarks on a project for her AP research class, Rao hopes to further her queries into the effects of COVID-19. And if laboratories are open again, she hopes to spend her summer there, furthering her knowledge of the research field and of medical science.

"Whatever happens, happens," said Rao, whose summer experience also taught her the ability to accept and adapt to whatever changes life brings.

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean