On July 27, approximately 50 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students proudly presented their research at the NIEHS Summer Internship Program Poster Session.
Summer interns are selected directly by mentors to work in their labs for 8 to 12 weeks. Students gain first-hand experience with cutting-edge techniques, as they work alongside experts conducting environmental health sciences research.
The summer culminates in a conference-style poster session that allows them to present their work to peers and the greater NIEHS community. "The mentors and lab mates enjoy the summer as much as our interns, who bring enthusiasm, as well as fresh ideas and questions," said Debbie Wilson, coordinator of the program.
"And by the end of the summer, they describe their research projects with a knowledge and poise that impresses the scientists who stop by — sometimes asking very detailed questions. It always helps when the next call for mentors goes out."
New experiences for a bright future
Many students come to NIEHS for hands-on immersion in biomedical sciences and to learn more about what a research career is really like.
Pegah Khosravi-Kamrani, a recent Columbia University graduate, will start dental school in the fall. She hopes to translate her new skills to learning about the impact of environmental exposure on oral health. According to Khosravi-Kamrani, a big take-away skill from this experience was the ability to think critically. "[I learned] to look at the study after it's finished and think about what is missing that should be looked at next," she said.
Durham Academy senior Lindsay Santiago confirmed her choice to pursue research during college and beyond, in spite of the challenge she — and other interns — faced as they learned new terminology and techniques.
For other interns, exposure to a whole new field was precisely what they needed to firm up career plans. Savan Gandhi said performing data mining was a valuable skill he gained this summer. He is a senior biochemistry major at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and did not have experience in bioinformatics. Gandhi worked on a research project with a direct relevance to human health, to help him prepare for medical school.
A highly coveted internship
Some interns had their sights set on an NIEHS internship for years. Joseph Goodson-Gregg, a recent graduate of Macalester College in Minnesota, applied for a spot at NIEHS 2 years in a row. During the interim, he reworked his application to improve his chances.
Not only did he get to spend this summer at NIEHS, but this fall, he will start a year-long postbaccalaureate fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Goodson-Gregg liked what he found in the people at NIEHS. "[They] are more than willing to offer their perspective from years in the field and advice on how to put your best foot forward."
Interns Meredith Jessup, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Luyu Wang, from NCSU, followed in the footsteps of family members. Wang recalled that her sister's NIEHS internship was such a positive experience that it inspired Wang to pursue a career in research.
Jessup, who hopes to go to veterinary school, came to NIEHS because her mother, a small animal veterinarian, worked here as an undergraduate. Jessup especially appreciated the community-like feel embodied at NIEHS.
(Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology Group.)