Following Winter Poster Day, Interns Reflect on Their Work

By Chris Worthington and Anne Gill; photos by Chris Worthington and Samuel Lopez
A high school student gestures to a poster hanging on a board as a senior scientist in a peacoat listens

Ben Smith discusses his poster with Walter Hubert, Ph.D., NCI at Frederick Office of Scientfic Operations.

The recent Werner H. Kirsten student poster day gave NCI at Frederick and Frederick National Laboratory high school interns a chance to showcase their work to peers, colleagues, and anybody else who passed through the Building 549 lobby, with research spanning microscopy, mutagenesis, and social media.

As the second poster presentation that students give—the first occurs in the summer, shortly after the internships begin—the winter event often feels like a “capstone” to the year-long internship. With that in mind, several interns reflected on their experiences and offered advice to their successors. The following is lightly edited for brevity.

Now that you’ve participated in the WHK internship program, what is your outlook for the future?

Jack Walker, Partnership Development Office: Although I’m nearing the end of my tenure as a WHK intern, I’ll be returning as a High School Summer Internship Program intern this summer. Looking past that, I’m looking to pursue chemical and/or environmental engineering in college. To help me towards that goal while simultaneously enabling me to meet my additional goal of serving in the military (as my parents have), I received an appointment to the Air Force Academy as well as full-tuition scholarships through the Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC programs, which I can apply to any college with an ROTC detachment. I’m still in the process of making a final decision.

Benjamin (Ben) Smith, Electron Microscopy Laboratory: Now that I have participated in the internship program, I believe that it has opened my eyes to see that, maybe, working at a lab bench full time isn’t what I’d like to do, though I do really enjoy working with new people and new technologies.

Lia Finch, Electron Microscopy Laboratory: I’ve had the opportunity to see the extensive amount of work scientists are putting into research. I have a very positive outlook for the future of science, as I have seen so many things evolve in just the few short months I’ve been in the labs. I see how hard professionals are working to learn and contribute to scientific knowledge, which is something I think is very promising for the future.

During your time here, is there an achievement or contribution you are most proud of?

Walker: It would have to be my recent article publication [about social media]. Not only did I get to write about something I’m passionate about while connecting it to my work in partnerships/collaborations, but I also got to work with some fantastic people along the way. From the scientists I interviewed to those who helped edit my work and provided constructive feedback, it was a truly remarkable experience. And, although it took a while to get through the publication process, I’m proud of how it turned out.

Smith: It was when the other two interns and I were working with a collaborator on one of the electron microscopes. We were trying to teach him how to navigate through a sample and get a high-quality picture, and we actually got a really great picture that benefited his research. It was really exciting.

Finch: I am most proud of a poster project I worked on over the summer and presented at the ATRF, Fort Detrick, and NIH in Bethesda. I worked very hard to learn the techniques needed to perform such a project, and I researched the basics of several technologies I previously knew nothing about. I have come so far in understanding the purpose and operation of the research happening in our labs.

How has the WHK program changed you?

Walker: As the WHK internship is the first true job I’ve ever applied for, it definitely changed me in terms of learning how to operate in a professional environment surrounded by individuals who are truly leaders in their respective fields. Moreover, I’ve learned to be much more adaptive to change, which has been incredibly helpful in balancing my school and work schedules. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve become more comfortable with admitting that I don’t know or understand something while asking for help from my mentors. Being completely new to FNL and, specifically, the field of partnership development, I’m blessed to have been a part of such a supportive team in the PDO.

Smith: This program has changed me from a person who used to have a much more narrow concept of science into a very broad knowledge of it. I’m no longer having to guess the concepts and logistics of how everything is done because I have done it myself!

Finch: The WHK program has provided me a glimpse of the real world beyond high school. I have gained a lot of experience working in a professional environment. My mentor and fellow interns have taught me a lot about what it means to be a scientist and how to be successful. By participating in this program, I have learned a lot about myself, and it has shaped my plans for the future. If I were not a WHK intern, I think I would be a lot more clueless about what I would like to study in college.

What would you say to someone entering into this program?

Walker: Keep an open mind. Perhaps you know exactly what career and education you’d like to pursue and, thus, the exact lab that you know you’ll thrive in. However, each one of these internship positions provides a truly unique opportunity, and I’d advise you to take advantage of every opportunity you get, even if it’s not your first choice or in a field that directly caters to your interests. The WHK internship offers you the chance to grow as a student and an individual; take that chance, and maybe try to test new interests.

Smith: I would advise them to take every opportunity and stay busy because that is how they will learn the most. Also remember it is important to learn about the work you are doing, but don’t forget to let the work you are doing teach you about what you like and don’t like.

Finch: Enjoy every minute of it and take advantage of every opportunity given to you. There is so much to learn in every lab, and you should want to try to figure it all out. Ask as many questions as you can and make connections with all your colleagues. Remember that you have been given such a unique opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, something that a majority of high schoolers do not have the chance to do. Make the most of your internship and try to learn more about yourself.

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