The University of Pennsylvania
Summer 2009 Internship: NHLBI's Laboratory of Molecular Cardiology, Cellular and Molecular Motility Section, Bethesda, Maryland
Vital Stats: Age 19, a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently a pre-med student majoring in economics, but still considering his options, including a second major in biology. Mr. Choi's hobbies include violin, guitar, basketball, and tennis.
Investigative focus: Support the NHLBI's investigation of myosin V, a molecular motor protein. Mutations (errors) in myosin genes contribute to several human diseases, including Griscelli's syndrome, a rare and often misdiagnosed genetic disorder that causes patchy albinoism and neurological symptoms.
If it weren't for the Recovery Act funding... Mr. Choi would have probably spent the summer working as a math and English tutor. "I was lucky to get the internship," said Mr. Choi. Section chief Dr. Jim Sellers said that the addition of the Recovery Act's summer intern funding allowed him to hire Mr. Choi.
Why internships are worth the investment: Dr. Sellers cites three reasons: First, the extra pairs of hands in the laboratory allow researchers to explore new areas they might not have otherwise had time to investigate. Second, having an intern allows post-doctoral students the opportunity to mentor someone directly, which according to Sellers, is an important skill for them to develop so one day they can run their own labs. Finally, internships allow students such as Mr. Choi to consider biomedical research as a career option. "The lab gets crowded, " said Dr. Sellers, "but it's always worthwhile to have summer interns."
How Mr. Choi got his foot in the lab door: Starting in November each year, Dr. Jim Sellers receives one or two e-mails each day from students interested in a laboratory internship. Mr. Choi stood out from the pack not only because of his academic achievements but also because he showed persistence by following up with a phone call and offered to come to the laboratory for an interview.
'Part of a team': "If you're in a lab, you're part of a team," said Mr. Choi. "Everyone shares everything - their materials, the cell plates you made yesterday. I don't consider the work I do to do grunt work."
Mr. Choi's scientific inspiration: Dr. Patricia Miller, a "ridiculously creative and imaginative" biology teacher at Montgomery Blair High School, a magnet school in Silver Spring, Md. "She was the one who got me really interested in biology." Before taking Dr. Miller's biology class, Mr. Choi didn't enjoy biology, preferring NASA and space exploration as a scientific interest. Dr. Miller's unorthodox teaching methods captivated Mr. Choi . For example, Dr. Miller would teach the process of mitosis [cell division] by having students move into groups and stage its phases.
Future predictions: Still deciding his major, Mr. Choi is certain of one thing: He wants to spend his career helping people. "Now that I've had such a good internship experience, I am definitely going to consider this as a career option."
By Sheila Walsh