“How do we build the research pipeline?” It’s a question critical to NIH’s entire scientific enterprise. How do we excite and engage students to commit to a career in biomedical research? NIA’s Intramural Research Program takes a “show-don’t-tell” approach.
Now in its 22nd summer, NIA hosts an 8- to 10-week, hands-on research experience—the Summer Training in Aging Research Program—during which students from universities around the country experience the life of a scientist. Forty-three students participated this year; program organizers estimate that NIA has mentored more than 1,000 summer interns over the program’s history.
“Our program attracts a diverse group of applicants. We have students in high school and college, as well as medical school and graduate programs,” said Arlene Jackson, NIA recruitment specialist and co-leader of the NIA summer internship program. “Some of the undergraduates are pre-med, others primarily interested in working at the bench. Many of the students are undecided. Not all have a specific interest in aging, but they all display enthusiasm and an open mind to learning more about the field.”
Interns are not just pouring gels and inputting data. They work side-by-side with intramural investigators and postdoctoral fellows to answer original research questions. For many, the ability to move beyond just replicating standard protocols in their school labs reinforces their desire for a career in science. Participants also value the opportunity to establish a close-knit relationship with an NIA senior scientist/mentor. Some interns may even have the chance to co-author a journal article, as has been the case the past several summers.
NIA summer interns gather for a photo.
“We encourage our IRP scientists to have interns develop and test their own research questions, so that they can have a sense of ownership of their work,” said Jackson. “We want them to feel that they are an important member of the lab.”
The NIA program culminates each August with a day-long poster session, co-hosted with the National Institute on Drug Abuse summer program. During the poster session, interns present their research to NIA and NIDA scientific leadership and their peers. It’s an opportunity for the interns to demonstrate their communication skills as well as show their new knowledge in aging research.
“The poster session is a chance for us at NIA to witness the exhilaration and wonder of biomedical discovery through the eyes of summer students,” said Dr. Michele Evans, NIA deputy scientific director and co-leader of the NIA summer internship program. “It’s amazing to see, firsthand, these young adults start to emerge as professional scientists.”
This year’s poster session featured a keynote talk by Dr. Patrice E. Moss, Clare Boothe Luce assistant professor of biochemistry at Trinity Washington University, a women’s undergraduate college in Washington, D.C., and 2002 NIA summer internship program alumnus.
Moss reflected fondly on her experience at NIA working in Evans’ laboratory. She recalled being encouraged to apply to the program as an undergraduate in biology at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, by a professor who would become an important mentor in her career. She didn’t have much lab experience at the time; the internship, she said, cultivated her love of critical thinking and investigation.
Following her undergraduate degree, Moss received a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences: biochemistry and cancer biology from Meharry Medical College. Now teaching biology and biochemistry at Trinity College, her professorship is designed specifically to keep women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Moss feels a strong responsibility to mentor future women researchers. In that capacity, she guided two of her students to participate in this year’s summer program at NIA. She said her favorite thing is to say, “I see something in you and I want to develop it…” If she had to wrap up her advice in one sentence, it would be, “Your future started yesterday.”
The NIA summer intern program is beginning to see some exciting indications of success—a second generation of interns. This year, Luis Salcido Holguin, son of 1998 alumnus Elsa Rodriguez-Roth, participated in the program.
“Not only is the NIA internship program building the pipeline of new investigators, but it’s developing ambassadors to our program,” said Evans. “Our hope is that these interns will continue with aging research and, once established, will begin to pay it forward for other students with an interest in science.”
In order to showcase summer program alumni who have gone on to accomplish their professional goals, NIA will be launching an NIA Alumni Summer Student Seminar Series; Moss will return as the first speaker.
Those wishing to participate in the NIA summer internship program may apply beginning in mid-November through Mar. 1; use the central NIH summer internship program site www.training.nih.gov. Applicants who express an interest in aging in their cover letter or select NIA as their institute of choice will be directed to NIA.
NIA Interns Excel
Winners of NIA’s Barbara A. Hughes Award of Excellence at 2014 poster day are:
Eric D. Sun, a sophomore at Pueblo West (Colo.) High School, who worked in the Laboratory of Genetics under the mentorship of Dr. Ilya Goldberg
Rajiv S. Deshpande, a freshman at Johns Hopkins University who worked in the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation under the mentorship of Drs. David Reiter and Richard Spencer
Abraham D. Killanin, a junior at Yale University who worked in the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Sciences under the mentorship of Drs. Alan Zonderman and Michele Evans
Annie Yang, a freshman at Dartmouth College who worked in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Science under the mentorship of Drs. Li Lin and Yunqian Peng.