Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard (SROH) has finished another outstanding year, bringing undergraduates from diverse backgrounds for a ten week internship program at MCO. The program began in 2009 with a partnership with the Leadership Alliance National Consortium, and since then has brought dozens of promising young scientists to Harvard to get a taste of life as an MCO grad student. The interns help with lab work, attend weekly seminars, and receive both lab and peer mentors to guide them through the program and to offer advice for their future as scientists.
One such intern, Roberto Barroso–Luque, came to SROH from across the river at Boston University, where he studies neuroscience and economics. Roberto came to BU from Mexico City, and became interested in neuroscience in high school. He spent the summer with graduate student mentor Cesar Echavarria of the Cox Lab, where he studied the visual cortex of rats.
“My intern demonstrated great motivation from the first day he arrived in the lab,” said Echavarria. “He was eager to learn about the various techniques employed in the lab, various topics in neuroscience, and what day-to-day activities are like in neuroscience research.
I was impressed by Roberto’s persistent motivation and curiosity as well as his ability to tackle problems on his own.”
“The program had a strong impact on my long term plans after undergrad in that it opened my eyes to a field I used to think I was not interested in,” Roberto said. “Before this program I was convinced I wanted to go into the computational side of neuroscience. However, I had not really explored the cognitive or systems side. This program allowed me to both explore and learn about systems and cognitive neuroscience, which has had a large impact on my future plans.”
This year saw the addition of a new administrator for SROH – Fanuel Muindi, Assistant Director for Graduate Programs. In order to ensure that interns got as much value as possible from their experiences, Muindi and the SROH leadership team implemented individual development plans (IDPs) to track each intern’s progress. Muindi said that the purpose of SROH is to prepare these promising pupils for the rigors of graduate work, and that this year’s group was more than up to the task.
“I was very excited about the diversity of our interns,” said Muindi. “They were energetic and highly driven to take full advantage of all the opportunities from the summer.”
Often the mentor/mentee bond continues beyond one summer. Peer mentor Alyson Ramirez of the Schier Lab and Mango Lab, for example, has already experienced the pride of welcoming her 2015 mentee Elizabeth May to the MCO department as a first year graduate student. This year her intern was Stephanie Kabeche from the University of Miami.
“I think she is a fantastic scientist,” Ramirez said of her intern. “From our first meeting, Stephanie was outgoing and enthusiastic. I think the SROH program is a great opportunity for summer undergraduate researchers – it highlights not only the great work going on in the labs on campus, but also the community that we have in the department. It’s always a fun experience showing students that the Harvard we know is nothing like its traditional stereotype, and that it is a collaborative, open, and welcoming environment.”
Stephanie was excited to come to Harvard, seeing it as a chance to broaden her research experience and have access to top-of-the-line equipment. She got her wish in the Gaudet Lab, where she studied the EC5-6 domains of clustered protocadherins (pcdhs). She plans to continue in biochemistry in graduate school, but in reflecting on her time at the MCO, she found that she took away more than just a renewed interest in biology.
“The best advice I heard from a professor came from Florian Engert,” Stephanie said. “He told us that science fails and science fails often, we would have a long hard road, often without huge victories, so if we could not find happiness in the little victories along the way, we are in the wrong field. For me, this put everything into perspective. Of course the struggle makes the little victories even better. I couldn’t imagine being in a field where the answers come easily.”
For the interns, the summer was spent gaining valuable experience, learning from their mentors, and solidifying their educational goals. All the interns agree that their experiences at SROH have made them more determined to continue their scientific careers in graduate school. For the mentors, the interns may have rekindled their own research goals, reminding them how far they have come. As SROH closes another successful year, both mentors and mentees will begin the fall with anticipation, reminded of the spirit of inquiry that led them to become scientists.
“The best piece of advice a professor gave me was to always let curiosity drive the questions you ask in your research,” said Roberto. “Even though there will always be uncountable topics one may find interesting, there are some that you find extremely compelling. It is these curiosity driven interests that will allow you to spend all day for six years doing fulfilling research.”