Caroline Arellano-Garcia, HIP 2014

School: California State University, Northridge, USA
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.”