It is June 26, day one of my internship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. I walk across a hilly park in Shoreline from my cousin’s house to the bus stop. I fumble with my metro pass as I board the bus heading downtown, manage to pay and stumble to a seat as the bus takes off mid-stride. I reflect, as I make note of my future stop, that commuting like this every day for the next month will give me some necessary “adult” skills outside of my internship that I had not accounted for. This thought is slightly underscored by the presence of high school students on the bus that must do this every day, and probably have been doing this for a long time. Still, its baby steps for a small town girl such as myself. Once in downtown Seattle, I manage to effectively change buses and make it to Fred Hutch surprisingly early and unscathed, thus completing my nearly hour and a half commute. My supervisor meets me and takes me back to the Science Education Partnership (SEP, for short) lab to introduce me to my colleagues. She then leads me on a tour of the campus, and then takes my colleagues and me out for lunch to celebrate my first day on the job. When we get back, they set me up in a corner of our crowded workspace to aliquot (separate into equal parts) dyes for a gel electrophoresis experiment that we commonly provide to classrooms. Equipped with my audiobook, I happily pipette for the rest of the afternoon.
The SEP exists to educate and support science educators from around the state. During our summer session, we provide professional development to high school and middle school science teachers by running common science experiments to help build curriculum, pairing them with research labs, and helping them build projects for their classrooms. Throughout the year we also provide “kits” for specific science experiments, as well as assorted equipment for more personalized curriculum.
Since my first day at the SEP; my responsibilities have grown to be more engaging and my commute has shrunk, but the satisfaction of the work I do is still there. My supervisor has done an excellent job of making sure I have meaningful and interesting projects, as well as introducing me to people doing incredible work. She recently helped me meet a woman working in a lab affiliated with Project Violet; which tests small, knotted proteins (called knottins) for their potential in identifying cancer cells. I got to learn about the process and see the lab, as well as receive some useful advice about furthering my studies after college.
My day-to-day activities vary, depending on the needs of the lab. When a classroom kit is needed, I refurbish kits; when a colleague is making a reagent or prepping a plasmid, I help with that; and when there isn’t a pressing task to complete, I am given the freedom to create procedures to test equipment that needs testing. In these latter endeavors I receive ample advice and have learned much about lab etiquette. I have done experiments testing the effectiveness of DNA ladders after multiple freeze-thaw cycles, potency of agarose gel stains under certain temperature incubations, and the suitability of different PTC polymerase chain reaction protocols for student experiments.
There are so many elements to my internship at the SEP, such that it makes it difficult to form a brief description. My time interning at Fred Hutch isn’t over yet, but I have already learned much about the practice of science, and cannot wait to learn more.
Experiences like Emma’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.