The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Summer 2009 Internship: NHLBI's Developmental Neurobiology Section, Cell Biology and Physiology Center, Bethesda, Maryland
Vital stats: A senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, studying biochemistry/molecular biology and psychology.
Internship: Mr. Bekkerman supported research in the Dr. Geller lab on the molecules found in scars resulting from spinal cord injuries. The insights he gained through this investigation could lead to improved treatments for brain injuries and stroke - and there is "some evidence" that these molecules are also connected with cardiac injury, according to lab chief Dr. Herbert M. Geller.
If he didn't have the Recovery Act-funded internship... Mr. Bekkerman said he would have been "either taking a summer class or lounging by the pool... probably taking a summer class."
Stiff competition: According to Dr. Geller, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) receives approximately 3,000-4,000 applications for summer internships and takes on approximately 600 in a typical year. "It's a very competitive process," he said. "Mikhael had a background in neuroscience and neuroanatomy, which is an essential part of our lab research. This background is hard to find. It's a very specialized set of skills and if you look through the database of internship applicants, you don't find it very often."
Why lab interns are important: "We're making an investment in the future of science, and in scientific activity and enterprise," said Dr. Geller, who runs NHLBI's summer research program. "That's the reason I run the program and why I strongly believe in the program. If we invest in the interns, we invest in our country's future achievements. The Recovery Act funding allows us to increase opportunities for summer interns, which will I think ultimately pay off big-time in terms of helping science. Internships are the way we get people interested in a scientific career - the summer researchers get intensive experience in a real-life situation, and often this motivates them to go into science." Dr. Geller himself started as a summer intern, although not at the NIH.
Future goals: Mr. Bekkerman's ambition is to "practice medicine in a developing country where availability of health care is scarce," Before the NIH internship began, Mr. Bekkerman volunteered in a rural Guatemalan medical clinic. "This experience exposed me to many of the problems there are in the world," he said.
A new perspective: "It's difficult to say how my time at the NIH will affect my future career goals," said Mr. Bekkerman. "But the work I am doing this summer will at least give me a set of critical skills that are necessary to succeed in the future. I'm learning more about practical problem-solving than I'm able to in class."
Life outside the lab: Outside of work and school, Mr. Bekkerman participates in many community service activities. He enjoys playing soccer, classical guitar, piano, and chess. His family came to the United States from the former Soviet Union when he was less than a year old. However, he still retains the ability to speak Russian.
By Sheila Walsh