Tackling HIV from the inside out

Yelena Boykov has done HIV research at Calvin and earned a spot in Michigan State University Medical School for fall 2013.

MAJOR: Biology
HOMETOWN: Caledonia, Mich.
CALVIN INVOLVEMENT: varsity lacrosse, resident assistant (RA) in Kalsbeek, biology research
FUTURE PLANS: attend Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Summer science research has done more than it’s fair share of work for senior pre-med student Yelena Boykov. Not only did it give her a well-paying summer job on Calvin’s campus, it also means a co-publication credit in a scientific journal, preparation for medical school and most of all, the opportunity to help find a solution to a problem she cares deeply about: HIV.

“Research definitely gives you the real picture of what it’s like to [go into medicine]. Lots of people think, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be a doctor, it’ll be great.’ But they don’t realize what it really entails.”

The process of research—conducting experiments, making mistakes, doing more experiments, making more mistakes— has definitely helped Yelena prepare for medical school. But it’s also meant getting her hands on a global problem that she’s seen in person.

The summer after her freshman year at Calvin, Yelena went on a mission trip to Chad, where she shadowed a doctor in a hospital. She watched surgeries and live births and saw many people receive treatments for HIV.

“Seeing firsthand what this virus does to an individual—and then going backwards into more of the molecular side of things and figuring out the intricate process of it and learning about the actual virus—was interesting.”

Yelena and Professor Anding Shen are studying two different kinds of cells and how their interaction allows people to be infected with HIV. If they can understand the interaction between endothelial cells and T-cells, they might be able to determine how to prevent the infection altogether. Basically, they’re looking to prevent people from getting HIV. And if no one gets HIV, then no one will get AIDS.

This means a lot to Yelena, who is hoping to return to Africa one day as a doctor.

What drew her to medicine in the first place? “I like the puzzle aspect of medicine, diagnosing things and figuring out how things work in the body and just how intricate all the processes of the body are.”

For now, the senior biology major is wrapping up her research with Prof. Shen, which means co-writing a paper for a major medical journal. One thing she doesn’t have to worry about this year? Getting into med school.

Yelena was one of three Calvin students who earned early acceptance to Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine in downtown Grand Rapids.

“Calvin has a good reputation with Michigan State for medical school,” she said.


“I knew Calvin had a good reputation for preparing you well academically, but the deciding factor was the fact that it was a Christian school. I think I just wanted that Christian environment and the community that comes with that, as well as the academics.”


“In the biology department, we learn to integrate faith and science. Most people view those two things as very distinct worlds. Calvin does a great job of integrating the two in the way that they teach, and the professors are very open to talk about how their faith works in their life as a scientist.”


“(Professor) Shen has been really great. She’s my advisor, so every semester she’s met with me to figure out my schedule and make sure I’m on the right path [to medical school]. I took her ‘Chinese Culture and Medicine Class,’ so we got to experience alternative medicine.We did some tai chi in class and learned about acupuncture. The coolest thing we did was watch a YouTube video of a woman having a C-section with nothing but acupuncture. She couldn’t feel a thing.”

VERGE: winter 2012

First-Year Experience