Meet the 2014 HIP Interns
Placement: Sandra McAllister Lab, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Caroline was hesitant to apply to the HSCI Internship Program. She didn't think she had a chance. It was one of the last applications she filled out and she told herself not to expect anything. “I had to apply,” she said. “I thought, the worst that they can tell me is no. It’ll sting a little bit, but I have to do it.”
She still remembers the moment Maureen Herrmann, the program’s administrator, contacted her with the news that she had been accepted. “It was a rainy day in California,” Caroline said. “I was so excited and I think everyone in my family cried.”
Spending a summer at Harvard was not a future Caroline had imagined. She had a difficult time in high school, which made it difficult to see a future in higher education. She eventually enrolled in Los Angeles Valley Community College, where she took some biology courses that peaked her interest in research. During her last year there, she began interning in a sex differentiation lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, which gave her hands-on experience with mice. Caroline next transferred to California State University, Northridge, and got involved in a program that took her into a developmental oncogene lab during the regular school year.
At HIP, Caroline was matched with a lab that works with human cancer stem cells. She was taught new tissue culture techniques, as well as how to run RNA, PCR, and immunofluorescence experiments. With this new knowledge, Caroline was challenged by her principal investigator Sandra McAllister, PhD, and mentor Zafira Castaño-Corsino, PhD, to explore how some types of breast cancer tumor cells can inhibit the growth of other tumor cells that have entered the bloodstream. This research could help identify new targets for cancer therapies.
"Sadly, some of my experiments did not go as hoped, but it just increased my desire to keep going," Caroline said. "My mentor was so involved and kept pushing and encouraging me to accomplish more and more. If I needed help with anything she just dropped what she was doing to help me."
After HIP, Caroline returned to California with new confidence in what she could accomplish, ideas for experiments to conduct in her home lab, and thoughts on how to apply what she learned to her senior thesis.
Caroline's advice to future HIPsters: "Never limit yourself.”
School: University of Glasgow, UK
Placement: Khalid Shah Lab, Massachusetts General Hospital
Ivan had worked in two laboratories—both in his home country of Singapore—and was studying medicine in the UK by the time he arrived in Boston for the HSCI Internship Program. He was one of five students attending school outside of the United States accepted into the program in 2014.
Based on his interest in brain cancer, Ivan was placed in the lab of Khalid Shah, PhD, an oncologist who studies experimental methods to eliminate glioblastoma multiforme, the most common brain tumor in human adults and the most difficult to treat. Shah’s lab is also one of the most international at HSCI, and quickly became a second home to Ivan.
“The lab has people of Dutch, Korean, Indian, Chinese, German, Italian, English, and, of course, American origins,” he said. “It was amazing to be part of group made up of such diverse cultural backgrounds. Daily interactions were filled with interesting exchanges on food, festivals, and traditions.”
One of the more enjoyable parts of the internship for Ivan was that, aside from regular check-ins, his mentor granted him a large degree of freedom to conduct his own experiments. Ivan often came in on weekends (not unusual for a HIPster) to work on his summer project—testing how well variants of a cancer-killing herpes virus treat metastatic melanoma in the brain.
“The independence that I was provided allowed me to make mistakes (thankfully not too many) and learn from them first-hand,” he said. “I believe such experiences teach you the art of troubleshooting an experiment and allow you to harness your analytical skills, which is harder to do when you’re getting instructions from the top down.”
Ivan’s advice to future international students is to not worry about finding friends. “Just go in with an open mind and be curious about other people,” he said. “Ask others about their stories and where they come from, because, more often than not, every single American is very different.”
Max Frenkel and Adam Pissaris
HIPsters who opt for university housing can’t choose their suitemates. Harvard administrators try to group people by program, but that’s the extent of a compatibility check. So when a math and chemistry guy from a small liberal arts college in California was placed with a biology major from an Ivy League university on the East Coast, there was no way to predict that such an epic friendship would form.
“It was fantastic living with Adam,” Max said. “After hours in the lab, we would both walk through the door at the same time, plug in all the computers, blast music, play chess, and just complain about all the little things that didn’t go right—and what we’d do next.”
“It was nice to have somebody that you could rely on to hang out with,” Adam said. “We had a lot of adventures every weekend, whether it was a camping trip, trying to cook something together—that never went well for us—or just hanging out with the other interns.”
This setup allowed the two interns to share lessons from their very different HIP lab placements. Max was paired with a new HSCI faculty member, Alan Mullen, MD, PhD, who studies the TGF-beta signaling pathway—a molecular cascade that regulates everything from normal development and wound healing to tumor formation and metastasis. Adam worked in the lung cancer lab of Carla Kim, PhD, studying lung stem cell differentiation.
For Max, observing how his principal investigator dealt with the challenges of starting a new lab and the pressure to publish was an inspiration. “Dr. Mullen taught me not to let the pressure collapse the creativity of what he wants to do,” Max said. “His drive and attitude showed me how you behave as a scientist and a truly amazing thinker.”
Adam’s time in Dr. Kim’s lab taught him that a scientific research career is more fun than he previously thought. “I had the mindset that I was going to go into an MD program after this, and that doing lab work kept you from interacting with people, which didn’t appeal to me,” he said. “This summer, I learned that being in a lab is collaborative and exciting. Although research can be slow, you can definitely see developments happening, and it makes you want to do more.”
Adam and Max both agree that there is nothing else like HIP. “I expected this program to be full of people who are biology majors or who had done a lot of lab work before, but this group is so diverse,” Adam said.
“I think if anyone is choosing between this internship and anything else, I would just implore them to put a lot more weight than they think in this internship,” Max said. “You get to do some of the coolest science, with the coolest people, and you can’t get this anywhere else.”
School: Harvard University, USA
Placement: Douglas Melton Lab, Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
Melody wants to do everything. Twenty years from now, she may be the editor of a scientific journal, a college professor, or the business liaison for a major philanthropic institute. But, for now, she is a Harvard University junior, which gives her the freedom to concentrate in chemistry and physics, work in a stem cell laboratory, and write for the student newspaper on the side.
For people like Melody, HIP hosts an annual industry career night, which invites leaders in research and development from the program’s sponsors to chat with the interns about alternative career paths. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., Novartis, and Vertex participated in 2014.
“The event taught me that there’s a lot of creativity involved in an industry job, just like an academic job,” Melody said. “I want science and biomedical research to be an integral part of my future career path and so it got me really excited to at least think more seriously about industry.”
Melody’s summer at HIP involved several other lessons about what it means to do science. Her project, as assigned by HSCI Co-director (and Melody’s housemaster) Doug Melton, PhD, was to develop a new method to measure how much insulin stem cell-derived beta cells are making and secreting. A problem arose when, due to scheduling conflicts, Melody’s mentor couldn’t be in the lab with her for six weeks.
“At first, the situation was a bit intimidating, but I soon realized that it was actually a blessing in disguise,” she said. “Each time I had a question, I would ask the relevant resident expert in my lab, who would infallibly share their wealth of knowledge. As a result, I ended up having multiple mentors support me.”
Another element of the internship Melody gained from was showing the non-Harvard students—who make up half of the HIP population—exactly what Harvard is all about.
“It’s great that we’re part of the program because they’re here to use the facilities and to explore Cambridge, but if they didn’t get to actually meet and befriend Harvard students, they would be missing part of the experience,” she said. “For Harvard students, the internship is a fantastic opportunity to get funding for their research and to be able to meet all of these really cool and smart students from around the world.”