HSCI Internship Program: Where are they now?

This summer, HSCI invited 35 undergraduates from Harvard and 19 other national and international colleges to participate in the HSCI Internship Program (HIP). Having just finished its sixth year, this program continues to provide students with the opportunity to conduct stem cell science in some of the world’s top labs through a structured summer job and training experience.

And when they leave HSCI, interns continue on to great things. “We offer the undergraduates selected to be in the HSCI Internship Program a unique, intensive, hands-on research experience that in some cases has completely altered the course of their careers,” says M. William Lensch, PhD, HSCI Faculty Advisor for Education and HIP Faculty Director. Following are updates on two previous HIP participants.

One opportunity leads to another

In the summer of 2009, Rado Penchev participated in HIP and spent 10 weeks working in the lab of HSCI principal faculty member Benjamin Humphreys, MD, PhD. Penchev was a great intern. So great, in fact, that after he finished his senior year at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he came back to Boston and was hired by Humphreys as a lab technician. “I’m very, very lucky to have had this opportunity. I don’t know where I’d be without it,” Penchev said.

Along with several new projects, he has continued to work on the one he began as an intern. Since Humphreys treats his technicians as he would graduate students in the way he advises them and allows them to take ownership of specific projects, Penchev said this has continued to be an invaluable experience.

Penchev would eventually like to attend medical school. He always knew that he enjoyed science but it wasn’t until HIP that he saw investigators with medical degrees conducting research and realized that he could pursue an MD and still conduct research.

“I don’t think I would have appreciated science so much without the internship,” Penchev said.

New career paths revealed

Anna Dulencin interned with HSCI principal faculty member Niels Geijsen, PhD, in 2006, during the first summer that the internship program was open to non-Harvard students. While working on her undergraduate degree at Rutgers University, she had initially planned on attending medical school. But one of the reasons she chose to enroll in the doctoral program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and pursue a PhD instead is the joy and excitement she found in research during her summer at HSCI.

In addition to her time in the lab, Dulencin credits other aspects of the program as helpful in her budding scientific career. “The weekly lectures and journal club discussions taught us how to think critically and analytically, not only in science but in general,” she said. “HSCI went to great lengths to make us feel part of the Harvard community, an experience that has encouraged me to seek and maintain collaborations.”

Now that she is a graduate student in neuroscience, Dulencin has had the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students in the laboratory. “The HSCI program’s mentoring experience helped teach me how to be a mentor, too,” she said.

Dulencin is now participating in a National Institutes of Health Biotechnology Training Grant, which will require her to conduct a two-month internship next summer. While most of the other students on the grant will pursue internships in industry, Dulencin is interested in exploring opportunities in government regulation and policy making. “In the future, if I’m not doing bench work, I’d like to make it easier for scientists to do that work,” she said.