Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

UNDERGRADUATE SUMMER INTERNSHIP AT MCO: GATEWAY TO ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

by Feng Chen and Victoria D'Souza

January 3rd, 2013

Anna Puszynska, Carolina Salguero, Prof. Cassandra Extavour, Didem Sarikaya, Kristian Herrera, Christina Saak, and Prof. Victoria D'Souza

Carolina Salguero, a native of Bogota, Colombia, is a second year graduate student at Harvard’s MCO (Molecules, Cells & Organisms) training program, a current recipient of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and a co-author of a research article published in the prestigious Nature magazine. Looking back at how she has traveled this far, it is clear to Carolina that the ten weeks she spent as an undergraduate summer intern in Prof. Victoria D’Souza’s laboratory in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology had changed everything. “The internship opened Harvard’s doors to my dedication and passion for science”, recalls Carolina. “Being accepted to the summer program not only marked the beginning of my scientific research career, but it was also the chance that I had waited for all my life. I knew that being part of the internship was a once in a lifetime opportunity that could take me one step closer to getting accepted to graduate school”. She has certainly achieved that, and much more.

Carolina is one of the many undergraduate students from all over the country who have greatly benefited from their memorable experience participating in the Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard program (SROH), offered by the Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs and the Leadership Alliance Consortium. As part of these efforts, the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology established the MCO undergraduate student summer internship program in summer 2009 and since then it has become an overwhelmingly popular SROH program and hosted about 40 summer interns over the years.

A unique strength of the MCO summer program is the vast range of scientific interests represented by approximately 60 MCO faculty mentors across several departments, including Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB), and Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB). This rich diversity allows undergraduate interns to explore research projects that best match their passion, from chemical and biophysical, to cellular, developmental and evolutionary research labs, as well as neuroscience and systems biology, all in the same program. In addition to attending weekly lectures by program faculty, summer interns are placed in research groups led by MCO faculty and actively participate in cutting-edge research in the world-class labs.

Each MCO undergraduate summer intern has the rare opportunity to work one-on-one with a peer mentor, a current student in the MCO graduate program. The close partnership not only helps interns master important skills needed for conducting their research projects, but also offers insights into what it means to be a scientist and provides guidance as they experience the exciting student life on Harvard’s campus. The MCO summer interns also interact with participants from other Harvard summer programs by going on joint field trips. At the end of the internship, these talented undergraduate interns present their summer research projects at MCO- and Harvard-wide poster sessions, as well as at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

As Aisha Dorta, another undergraduate summer intern from CUNY Brooklyn, puts it: “My experience with MCO summer internship program was fantastic. It has opened up so many doors and gave me a new perspective on the life of a scientist. My mentors, Prof. Cassandra Extavour and Didem Sarikaya, a graduate student, were extremely helpful. They provided me with knowledge and courage to pursue the field that I want as well”. Prof. Extavour fondly remembers Aisha as “one of the best undergraduates I have ever worked with in the lab”. “She was extremely bright, curious, confident, and hardworking. She worked long hours into the evenings and on weekends, often outlasting the graduate students. According to her, this was not because she felt pressured to do so, but rather because she was so excited about what her results might be, that she just had to stay late to see the outcome of her experiments!”, Extavour continued. “Aisha’s experiments were highly successful and resulted in her contribution to a paper that came out a few months after she left the lab; she was a co-author on that paper." It is the combination of a shared passion for science and extraordinary mentorship that ensure that the MCO undergraduate summer internship program will remain a gateway to academic excellence.

For Carolina and Aisha, many of their treasured memories from the ten weeks spent at Harvard as SROH interns have MCO graduate students in the pictures. “The MCO summer internship program is exceptional because it focuses on the students and helps them both personally and professionally by bringing unique individuals together”, Aisha says. Indeed, Carolina, now in her second year, and a group of her friends are getting ready for the next summer. Christina Saak, another fellow MCO graduate student cannot hide her enthusiasm: “I am looking forward to interacting with the summer interns at the bench as well as outside the lab. The involvement of graduate students in various activities and seminars specifically tailored for undergraduate interns - for example, regarding graduate school applications - will allow the summer students to gain valuable insights into what graduate school will be like and how to get there. We are all very excited about the opportunity to pass on our experiences and cannot wait for the summer!"

Future undergraduate summer interns, we sincerely welcome you to find out more about the MCO undergraduate summer internship: a gateway to academic excellence!

In addition, please read the 2013 Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard brochure.