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Internship offers students 'day in the life' of a scientist

August 07, 2009

Putting their brains to the test, more than 20 high school students worked alongside Biodesign Institute scientists as part of a summer high school internship at ASU.

Students from 13 Phoenix-area high schools worked on research projects that address pressing societal problems, ranging from decontamination of groundwater to building nanostructures for diagnostics and working on cures for infectious diseases and cancer. The daily exposure to the large research teams and the institute’s world-class facilities gave the students an in-depth introduction to the career of a research scientist.

For Tesla Therrien, a senior at Phoenix Union Bioscience High School, scooping up enzymes and proteins was a lot different from her first job experience scooping ice cream.

“I thought working in a lab would be scary,” Therrien says. “But the scientists helped me understand everything. And when we had setbacks in our project, it just got me more into what I was doing.”

“Science is like solving a mystery,” says Benjamin Hill of Chandler Preparatory Academy, who is considering attending ASU. “Sometimes you get stuck on the first few steps of the experiment. My mentor made sure I got to do everything and even rescheduled a lab meeting so that I could attend.”

Alan Nelson, the executive director of the Biodesign Institute, stresses the importance of hands-on educational opportunities.

“Future breakthroughs in medicine and protecting our environment will depend on preparing these students to succeed,” Nelson says. “Challenging laboratory experiences let them see that they can have an impact, and this makes all their hard work worthwhile.”

“Now that I’ve been in a real working lab, biology class definitely will click more for me,” says Jared Naimark, a senior at Desert Vista High School. “The projects are so amazingly cutting-edge. Work done here really is the future.”

Each student is mentored by a researcher within the institute, and mentors say the experience is as rewarding to them as to the students.

“Having interns in the lab makes a big difference in their lives and on mine,” says Jeffrey LaBelle, a researcher at Biodesign.

A key goal of the program is to give students a taste of what it would be like should they pursue a career in research.  

“Hands-on experience is not obtained easily, so it is valuable,” says Weimin Gao, a Biodesign mentor and researcher. “My intern and I treated each other like scientific colleagues by exchanging ideas about the background of our project, its potential significance, and future articles to read.”

The internship program, now in its fourth year, supports a Valleywide initiative to strengthen the area’s bioscience/biotechnology industry. Interns had the opportunity to complete their summer work experience by presenting their research in front of their colleagues, mentors and parents.

Julie Kurth,
(480) 727-9386
Biodesign Communications