The summer before they start their second year as a Scholar in the BUILD program, trainees are encouraged to participate in an off-campus internship. These five Year Two Scholars share their experiences this summer – and their advice to future interns.
Rudolf Cheong, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Rudolf interned at the University of California Irvine (UCI) working with Dr. Frances M. Leslie’s neuropharmacology lab. His research project examined the neural mechanisms behind the effects of nicotine and ethanol on adolescent vs. adult rats.
“I really enjoyed the department faculty and the graduate students,” said Rudolf. “The graduate students seemed to really enjoy what they did.”
This was his first exposure to pharmacology, which he found fascinating. “By the end of the internship,” he said, “I had a much greater appreciation and understanding of what it meant to be a graduate student at a major research university.”
Vivianna Goh, College of Health and Human Services
Vivianna also interned at UCI. She worked with Dr. Dara Sorkin of the UCI School of Medicine looking at the relationship between stress, depression and health behaviors of Latinas with diabetes. In addition to the research, she attended workshops on applying for graduate school and fellowships.
“I liked learning more about the community around me,” Vivianna said, “and being able to learn more about cultural health beliefs, diabetes, and mental health. It was also very fun to meet people from another university.”
Vivianna said that one of her biggest takeaways from the internship is that data doesn’t always come out the way a researcher expects it to. “Some of our hypotheses were disproved over the summer,” she said, “but I learned to keep moving forward and not give up!”
Adam Grosvirt-Dramen, College of Engineering
Adam interned at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, which focuses on training engineering majors for graduate school research. His project focused on developing a miniaturized diagnostics device for autoimmune diseases. He was also able to attend workshops on a variety of topics such as diversity in STEM, resume/CV development, applying to graduate school, and how to find your life passion.
“Most of us in the program were not from New York City, so we took full advantage of being in the city,” Adam said. “The program had outings planned for us, including a Coney Island trip, and a Broadway show trip.”
Adam forged friendships with people from all over the U.S., he said. “I also enjoyed the time flexibility they offered because they knew we weren’t from New York.” He said. He and his new friends were able to explore what the City had to offer. “There is so much to do.” Adam still keeps in touch with the people he met.
“I really enjoyed my research and the research lab that I was in,” he said. “The research I did helped me pinpoint my interests for graduate school,” he said.
Through this experience, Adam learned that it is O.K. to feel scared and explore something new. “I was nervous from the time school ended to the time I got to the dorm,” he said. “After a while, you learn that you will make it through the day one way or another.”
Jairo Maldonado, College of Engineering
Jairo interned at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab as part of the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at Northwestern University. His research project focused on using smartphones to monitor the community mobility of persons with stroke.
He especially enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the research at the Ability Lab. “The model aims to combine clinicians and researchers in rehabilitative research to get input from both sides,” he said. “I learned how to communicate with patients that were participants in research studies. I got to hear stories from their backgrounds and how they got to where they are now.”
If he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing, Jairo said. “I believe I dedicated all my efforts to the research project, pushed the project further and made some great friends along the way.”
Vicky Phun, College of Liberal Arts
Vicky interned at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Summer Training Academy for Research Success (STARS) program. She worked with Dr. Timothy Rickard in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory and examined scheduled learning practices on Spanish verb conjugation skills.
“I really enjoyed working with the graduate students,” she said, “because they helped support me from the beginning of developing an abstract to presenting an oral presentation.”
The theme of her internship, she said, was “Ask for what you need.” The phrase came up often during the UCSD obstacle challenge course, but she saw how it applied to research, as well. “The faculty and graduate students are unaware of your experience and skill levels; therefore, it is your job to ask questions when instructions are unclear,” she said. “If you do not ask questions, you are not going to get the help you need. I think asking questions is a critical skill to have in graduate school.”
Advice for Future Interns
All five Scholars recommend preparing for your summer research internship well in advance. “Start looking early into programs so you can maximize the number of internships you apply to,” said Vicky, “and increase your chances of getting into an internship.”
Rudolf added, “start preparing personal statements early on in the application process.”
“When BUILD tells you to apply to several internships, do it,” advised Vivianna. “The programs are very selective.”
The summer internship application process can be daunting. “Don’t feel discouraged about applying,” Jairo said. “Be confident in the skills you have acquired with BUILD.” In fact, Jairo believes these skills put you miles ahead of other applicants because you are coming in with research experience under your belt.
“Don’t give up,” said Adam. “I applied to a lot of programs and got very few acceptances.” He also advises looking into smaller programs. “Some of the programs I found were not as well-known, which made it easier to be accepted.”
“I recommend exploring a variety of opportunities,” added Rudolf, “even if you have no experience in the field.”
“If a research project sounds amazing, go tell the professor that!” said Vivianna. “Make time to find as many internships as you can, and contact your ‘dream’ faculty.”
Rudolph suggests applying for an internship at the graduate schools you are thinking of going to. This will allow you to give the campus and research program a try and “see if it is a good fit,” he said.
Often, a summer research internship is more about gaining experience in general than about acquiring specific skills or experience. “Wherever you go,” Vicky said, “you will learn something valuable to either your research, your personal life or both. Make the most of the program and do not be afraid to sept out of your comfort zone.”
Adam agrees. “In the end, you can learn to live with what you have. A summer internship won’t make or break you.”
Finally, keep in mind that a summer research program isn’t all work and no play, said Jairo. “Research is not all about work … [it] is also a blast. So, apply and look forward to learning a lot and having one of the best summers of your life.”