Now that this year’s summer interns have printed their posters, presented their data, and returned to their home colleges and universities, what do we make of the SROH program’s year-round impact on these individuals and the MCO community at large?
MCO director and MCB Professor Catherine Dulac commends Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard, now in its sixth year running, which has continued to flourish, “thanks to the tireless efforts of a dedicated few faculty and students in charge of the selection and mentoring of SROH interns in MCO labs.” SROH “attract[s] an excellent and diverse group of highly motivated budding scientists, who can explore exciting research avenues in top notch laboratories, but also discover the richness of life at Harvard, Cambridge, and the larger Boston area.”
This year’s interns hail from seven states in the U.S., including individuals born in Cuba, Ecuador, and Haiti, students from small liberal arts colleges and large state universities, tiny rural towns and urban metropolises, majors in Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology, hikers, chefs, and history buffs. Some discovered SROH through the Leadership Alliance, a national consortium committed to cultivating success among diverse students in the sciences. Others stumbled across SROH while investigating internship opportunities at Harvard. For those considering Harvard for grad school or excited about a particular professor’s research, SROH may be a means to get a foot in the door. Vayu Maini Rekdal, for instance, a culinary enthusiast and rising senior at Carleton College, MN, endeavors to understand “how scientific methods and approaches can inform how we think about what we eat.” His interest in the interaction among diet, gut microbes, and human health, lead him to Emily Balskus’s work at CCB. “I contacted her independently and was lucky enough to be invited to join her lab over the summer,” Rekdal relates. However, “in order to get the most out of my work in [the Balskus] lab and overall experience at Harvard, I wanted to join a program that would allow me to connect with other aspiring young scientists.” “In hindsight,” he continues, “this program far exceeded my expectations, giving me new perspectives on scientific research and on my personal and professional trajectory.”
As Rekdal suggests, the SROH internship offers undergraduates far more than an embellishment to their resumes. While SROH interns are already committed to pursuing graduate studies in the sciences, the program allows them to ascertain if indeed lab research (as opposed to becoming medical doctors, lawyers, and consultants) and Harvard in particular is right for them. After ten weeks, the clear consensus among SROH interns is, yes! Margarita Rangel is “more excited than ever to begin graduate school…and am reassured that [Harvard] would be a great fit.” Additionally, Jessica Lorente attests, “This experience has only consolidated my love for research and my desires to go to grad school, especially in a program as nurturing as this one.”
Students were largely impressed by the warm and socially-integrated graduate student community and surprised to find both Harvard students and faculty “down-to-earth” (rather than the lofty theorists and antisocial science nerds popularized by their fictional counterparts). Lorente observed, “among the grad students there was neither tension nor competition; there was union, friendship, and a genuine love for research, which is something I did not expect in an institution as renowned as Harvard.”
The bonds established between graduate mentors and mentees endure despite the conclusion of this summer’s session. Armed with the trade secrets of an MCB admissions committee member (gleaned from a Q/A on application review with MCB professor Florian Engert) and tips, tricks, and techniques for composing a compelling personal statement (offered by a graduate-student-led seminar), this summer’s six rising seniors face the graduate school applications for which SROH has industriously prepared them. This year and next, students’ graduate peer mentors will remain resources over the grueling months leading up to December deadlines—available to read statement of purpose drafts, offer advice, or merely lend a sympathetic ear as individuals who have been through the process before. And then, “Hopefully, we’ll see them in February!” at MCO’s prospective-student open house, as SROH student-coordinator Kristian Herrera (G4) anticipates. The odds are favorable; each year, Catherine Dulac affirms, “many of the interns have such a great experience that they are eager to apply to the MCO graduate program, and we now have indeed quite a number of SROH alumni in our recent MCO classes.”
In the meantime, Herrera and co-coordinator Gonzalo Gonzalez del Pino (G2), along with Senior Administrator for Graduate Studies Mike Lawrence and Diversity Committee Chair and MCB Professor Victoria D’Souza, attend SACNAS and ABRCMS conferences in October and November to recruit for the MCO program as well as scout for next summer’s SROH interns.
Harnessing the year-round commitment demonstrated by students, faculty, and administrators alike would not be possible without Victoria D’Souza’s unfailing support. Dulac credits “D’Souza’s leadership for getting the SROH program started and for the great strides that we have made since then. Victoria not only has great experience and insights on the range of initiatives needed for the SROH program to thrive, but she also worked tirelessly to establish contact with program directors in colleges throughout the country so they send us their best students, she visited these places, got them to visit us, and also, very significantly, was able to engage our own graduate students in the MCO program to help in mentoring the SROH students.” Dulac concludes, “We would not have had such a successful SROH program without Victoria’s efforts and insights, and I know she has many new ideas to keep improving it, so fully count on her leadership in the future as well.” We very much look forward to next year!