The end of July marked the culmination of the 2018 Summer Intern Program (SIP), which provided 55 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students a unique research opportunity at NIEHS.
The annual poster session, held July 26, offered the interns a chance to describe their research projects and findings to attendees from the institute and the local area. Ten interns from the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP; see sidebar) also presented their projects.
Katy Hamilton, SIP coordinator for the NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD), said the summer was busy with activities such as those listed below.
- A career panel.
- Seminars on preparing for medical or graduate school.
- Journal clubs and workshops led by NIEHS fellows.
- The Three-Minute Communication Challenge.
Hamilton coordinated the panel of judges who rated the interns on their presentations and research. The winners received awards during an ice cream social later that day.
Knowledge beyond the classroom
North Carolina Central University junior Arianna Lawrence is working for the next year with Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D., in the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Molecular Pathogenesis Group. Bound for medical school, Lawrence applied for NSCP specifically because she was “excited about immersion [into research] and to work at NIEHS, which does so much for the public good.”
Lawrence added that her favorite part of the experience was to see real-world applications of what she learned from textbooks.
Austin Zhang also plans to pursue a medical degree after completing his undergraduate degree at Duke University. He participated in the SIP this summer to get hands-on experience, especially with animals.
Embracing new challenges
Research is a trying experience, fraught with unique challenges. Hamilton reflected that her favorite part of being involved in the program was seeing how much the interns grew. “For many of our interns, this is their first research experience, and it is a formative experience in their lives,” she said. “It’s great being a part of their training and seeing the transition from the beginning of the summer.”
Ailin Xu, a senior at Panther Creek High School, had the opportunity to do research with Paul Wade, Ph.D., in the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group. Her most important lesson this summer was that of patience. “[Even though] things don’t always go your way, you have to keep trying,” she said.
Natalie Bell, from East Carolina University, worked with Alison Harrill, Ph.D., in the Biomolecular Screening Branch. Her project involved using diversity outbred mice to identify transcriptional changes that accompany drug-induced liver injury.
These mice proved to be a good choice for modeling patient susceptibility to adverse drug reactions. “As opposed to inbred homogenous mice, the heterogeneity serves as a good proxy to the human population,” Bell explained. She found that her biggest challenges were learning the terminology and getting the software to work.
Distinguished mentors shepherd young scientists
Despite a summer of intense learning and frantic activity, interns were able to take encouragement from their research mentors. Bell’s favorite part was working with Harrill. “She was always positive and helped me learn so much this summer,” Bell said.
Erin Sley, a master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), interned at NIEHS so she could work with Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., and fellow Emma Rosen. Sley was not disappointed.
“I had so many [challenges], but they never felt insurmountable because of my mentors,” said Sley. “They provided me with independence to do my best, and weekly meetings for guidance along the way.”
(Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NTP Toxicology Branch.)