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The final day of summer internship

Today marks the last day of the summer internship for our early career undergrad researchers. On paper, it’s been a long, sometimes bumpy road that wasn’t always the easiest thing to work through. In reality, it was all too short and it feels like we just got to know our interns and now it’s time to say goodbye. Through the experience I’ve got to watch the intern I was mentoring grow as a person, and grow more confident in herself. It’s been a privilege that I got to be a part of this.

It feels like only yesterday I wrote this post, but it’s been over a month and a half from that incident. My intern was a young black woman who didn’t feel like she fit in. The only black woman in the program she’s expressed her frustration with the fact that no one looks like her. She felt like an outsider and while she was never the most social person, she felt even more isolated because everyone around her was significantly further along in their program and she was just starting out. She said felt stupid and that she couldn’t do it and some of the lab thought she just really didn’t want to be there. I saw otherwise, she just lacked confidence, but I think everyone does at some points in life.

Since she’s been with us it hasn’t always been the easiest for her. My Co-PI scares her a little and he is a somewhat intimidating person until you get to know him, I mean he’s an MD/PhD so basically an overachiever and he has particular ways he likes things done. I enjoy working with him and he’s a very friendly person, but I can understand how he may scare someone who’s just starting out and never interacted with a researcher like that before. In fact, just the previous week she had a panic attack and in what I imagine was a low point for her suggested that she wanted to drop out and not come back for the final presentaitons.

I emailed her and we had a long talk about why that wasn’t a good idea. I explained that I would help her to feel confident when it came time to present and she agreed to come back (here). She had never given a presentation, as in never in her life. Sometimes things are scary and I don’t blame her for having a hard time with the idea that she needed to present on work when she didn’t understand the work others were doing. Our lab is different we don’t focus on cell cultures or anything like that, we work with humans, something the other labs do not do.

We practiced and Monday was the first day for her presentations and she did really well (more here)! I am super proud of the progress she made and I think she felt pretty good after the fact. Actually the other day when I asked her about how she felt she said she wasn’t nervous about presenting today. Of course today she said she’s a little nervous, but we went through her presentation with the rest of the lab and it was perfect, I wouldn’t change a word about it. She’s still a little anxious and we’re still a few hours away from the big event, but I’m confident that things will go well for her.

It’s been fun watching her progress. I let her be very hands on with the experiments, placing electrodes and doing some of the nerve probing that we do (it’s all non-invasive so you can’t really hurt the person, you just don’t stimulate the nerve). It made me happy to watch her work and she said she’s enjoyed doing the actual experiments and doing the data analysis, which was surprising to me since I think analysis is the boring part. In any case she got the chance to do things she’s never done in her whole life, things that she’s avoided even trying to do, and things that she never thought she would be able to do.

I got to watch her grow as a person and as a researcher and I’m really lucky to be a part of that progress. I told her that the world isn’t a very fair place, but if she sticks it out she will have the chance to help people like her. People who are scared to start and don’t know that they belong. She came in not sure she was even supposed to be here and now she’s leaving thinking she wants to become a nurse or even go into research. She’s dreaming a lot bigger than when I first met her and I hope this experience will be something she can carry with her for the rest of her life.

I advocated for her to stay with our lab when she first got here and I won’t lie, when she emailed saying she wanted to drop out I was worried I had made the wrong call. I’m happy to say I don’t think that anymore. I made the right call and I while she will never know how close she was to being dropped from the program, I’m glad I pushed the lab for her. She did really well this summer and while she still isn’t the most social or the most confident, neither am I and that’s okay too.


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