Beyond Summer School:
Local High School Students, Undergrads, and Teachers Experience Life in
By Jennifer O'Sullivan and
"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,"
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 lead?'"
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
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.
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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.