Beyond Summer School:
Local High School Students, Undergrads, and Teachers Experience
Life in the Lab
By Jennifer O'Sullivan
and Mary Lien
"Working in a lab is very different than learning in class,"
said Roberto Carbuccia, a Mt. Miguel High School student who
was a summer intern in the organic chemistry laboratory of
Professor Ehud Keinan at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).
"And, it's a good way to discover whether or not you enjoy
[science] outside your textbooks."
Carbuccia was among 22 San Diego high school students, four
undergraduates, and one high school science teacher who participated
in the 2003 TSRI Summer Research Internship Program.
Most interns began the summer by familiarizing themselves
with lab protocols, equipment, and a new vocabulary. As the
summer progressed, interns were assigned an individual research
project or assisted with multiple projects, working either
directly with the lab's principal investigator, or with a
graduate student, postdoc, or research technician. In addition
to work in the lab, interns participated in program activities,
such as a trip to the Natural History Museum, and career-related
seminars, such as a presentation comparing Ph.D. programs
to medical school.
As a finale to the eight-week program, the interns recently
made formal presentations of their results and experiences
to an audience of their peers, fellow lab members, mentors,
and family and friends.
"I learned about the insight of science and what lies beyond
the constant jumble of numbers, expensive lab equipment, and
explosive chemicals," reported intern Brittany Williams, a
recent graduate of Granite Hills High School who studied protein
crystallography in the laboratory of Associate Professor Dave
Stout. "I now sense that science will become more than just
a job to me. [It will become] an aspect of my lifepart
of who I am and the way I think." Williams is now headed to
Pepperdine University, where she has already set up a meeting
with a biology professor to discuss working as an undergraduate
assistant in the lab.
Maya Webb, a former Lincoln High School student who will
complete her senior year at Scripps Ranch High School in 2004,
worked in the Johnson lab with Assistant Professor Vijay Reddy.
She remarked that the internship opened her eyes to an entirely
different world of science. "During my eight weeks, I learned
many techniques, such as sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide
gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE), the maintenance of an insect
cell culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and how to
run agarose gels," she said, adding that "working with Dr.
Reddy only made it more spectacular." Reddy, a first-time
mentor in the program, was also pleased. "If one spends time
with the interns, they come out with flying colors," he observed.
Samantha Soriano, a recent graduate of Rancho Bernardo High
School who was driving to UC Berkeley with her family after
the final presentation, was also enthusiastic about her mentors.
"I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to intern
in Dr. [Dong-er] Zhang's laboratory," she said. "All the postdocs
were patient answering my questions and explaining the concepts
behind the lab techniques they performed. Every time I made
a mistake, they encouraged me to repeat the procedure and
reminded me that making mistakes and asking questions is the
only way to learn. Now, when I am in a class of 300 people
at Berkeley, I won't be afraid to ask, 'Why is this important?'
'How does this fit with other concepts,' and 'Where will this
UCSD undergraduate Robert Wells, who worked in Associate
Professor Dave Goodin's lab, reported that the summer internship
at TSRI helped confirm his career plans. "I have always intended
to get my Ph.D. in biology and go into the field of biological
research. However, my experience has put a face to what both
graduate school and [a career in] research would be like."
Some of Wells' experiments this summer yielded inconclusive
resultsa common experience for those working at the
bench. "I was whimsically told that this is why they call
it 're'search," he joked. "I learned that if things don't
go right you do them again, and if they still don't go right,
then this is just how science is. However, most importantly
I learned that you should never give up."
Judging from the results and personal reflections they shared,
this year's participants in the TSRI Summer Research Internship
Program are far from giving up. Whether they pursue research,
medicine, or something entirely different, these young scientists
are just getting started.
This summer's internship program was made possible by
the Blasker-Rose-Miah Fund of The San Diego Foundation, the
San Diego Workforce Partnership in conjunction with the Neighborhood
House Association, the Hearst Foundation, Oliver and Norma
James, and the John and Susan Diekman Fellowship.
Participants in the 2003 Summer Research
Internship Program at TSRI are all smiles after completing
their final presentations.
Chula Vista High School graduate Darlene
Nolasco explains some of the data she analyzed as an intern
in the Wong lab in the Department of Chemistry. Photo
by Kevin Fung.