Summer interns sample the research life, improve professional skills

September 24, 2013

interns-groupSoM faculty participate in programs to support diversity in research

It looked like any typical poster session: rows of posters on display with names like “Reliability of Transarterial Ethiodol-based Heptocellular Carcinoma (HCC) Embolization (TACE) as a Surrogate for Image-Guided Stereotactic Body” and “Effect of Passive Ethanol on Intragastric Sucrose Consumption in DBA/2J Mice.” Researchers stood at the ready to present their work to passersby.

But in this poster session, the 22 researchers were high school and college students who had each spent eight to 10 weeks in an OHSU lab interning with a faculty member on a research project.

The poster session was a capstone to their participation in OHSU’s annual Summer Equity Research Program (for college undergraduates) and the Ted. R Lilley Cancer Continuing Umbrella of Research Education (CURE) Internship Program (for high school students).

These programs, led by OHSU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and supported by the Knight Cancer Institute, School of Medicine and other units, give younger students from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds experience working in a research setting as well as one-on-one academic advising and clinical shadowing opportunities. Interns also attend weekly seminars and lectures and participate in additional enrichment opportunities. (Learn more about these programs.)

Twenty-two SoM faculty members participated as mentors this summer. Supporting diversity is a high priority within the school and was a thematic focus that helped inform School of Medicine Research Roadmap activities this past year.

interns-presenterAt the poster session, CURE intern Denise Aquino enthusiastically explained her poster, “Quantitative DCE-MRI Provides Early Prediction of Breast Cancer Response to Chemotherapy.” Aquino, a senior from Molalla High School, says she learned many things during her internship, from new scientific terms to MATLAB and other computer skills.

She also appreciated the opportunity to explore different fields within biomedicine.  “I began this internship really interested in optometry,” she said. “But after this internship, I’m considering ophthalmology because of the additional clinical and surgical aspects.”

Dirir Abdullahi, a neurobiology major at University of Washington, presented a poster entitled, “A Yeast 3-Hybrid System to Identify Membrane Receptors.” He’s interested in pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. after college with the goal of securing an academic position as a clinician-scientist one day. So the internship provided key insights into lab life.

“I experienced a lot of failures in my experiments this summer,” he said. “A lot of things just didn’t work. I mean a lot. But my mentor helped me understand that failure is a part of science. Even great scientists have a lot of failures.”

Xiangshu Xiao, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology, mentored Abdullahi. Dr. Xiao volunteered to participate because he says mentors played an important role in his own career. “Being a mentor is a small way I can give back,” he said.

As he guided Abdullahi through a series of experiments over the summer, he says he was reminded of his own early experimental attempts. “In science, not all your designed experiments will work as predicted,” said Dr. Xiao. “But an unsuccessful experiment presents a good opportunity to understand the underlying principles of experimental design. Then you redesign the experiment, and you’re a step closer to the truth of science.”

SoM faculty: Would you be willing to mentor an intern in your lab? Do you know a high school or college student who would be a good candidate for an internship? Help OHSU expand diversity in the nation’s biomedical workforce. Planning for the 2014 internship programs will begin later this fall. Please contact Ebony Lawrence, CDI Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator, at or call 503-494-5025 to learn more.