Reflections on My Werner H. Kirsten Student Internship

Nathalie Walker
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Nathalie Walker interviews student interns during the NCI at Frederick Student Poster Day on July 31

By Nathalie Walker, Guest Writer

Editor’s note: This article represents one student’s perspective on her experiences as a Werner H. Kirsten student intern.

Failure isn’t just a possibility, it is a certainty; yet failure is what leads you to success. Above all else, that is what I will retain from my experience in the Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program (WHK SIP).

The WHK SIP, developed in the 1990s, is a year-long internship for high school students. Students work full-time during the summer and as volunteers for school credit during the school year. I applied for this internship because I wanted to be positive that I would pursue a science career after graduating from high school.

Priya Stepp applied to the WHK SIP for the same reason. “You don’t see the hard work behind the scenes,” said Stepp, an intern in the Small Animal Imaging Program (SAIP)/Pathology Histotechnology Laboratory, working with mentor Joseph Kalen, Ph.D., director of SAIP. “In the lab, you can see the grind and the glory.”

I agree with Stepp. In the lab, you see the failures and dead-end trials, and not just the results of successful scientific discoveries. Many people do not understand how these discoveries are made, but only how they can be applied in the medical field. That is the beauty of getting the chance to experience scientific research at a young age. My experience allows me to think differently and gives me a scientific perspective before I start college. Choosing a scientific career is not an easy path to take. Students who have the initiative to complete the WHK SIP will be dedicated to their careers and ready to deal with failure and hard times.

“If you really want it badly enough, you can achieve it,” said Sam Giannakoulias, a WHK intern in the Laboratory of Protein Dynamics and Signaling, working with mentor Yien Che Tsai, Ph.D., staff scientist.

WHK student interns do not let one failure bring them down. We choose to let potential setbacks become learning experiences in order to strengthen our drive to achieve even greater things.

My love of science is what made me choose this journey. However, my love of science will not single-handedly allow me to succeed in my internship or in a career in science. I also need dedication, which I have, most of all. I have struggled academically, as I may not have the highest GPA, and some subjects that might be easier for some science students do not come as naturally to me. But my drive to gain more knowledge and experience helps me through these obstacles.

I have demonstrated my dedication to my future career in science by choosing to participate in the WHK SIP. My family moved to North Carolina in June, and I had to choose to either move with them or stay in Maryland to complete this internship. What did I give up for this internship? I had to delay living with my parents for a year. I moved in with my grandparents, who live in Hagerstown, and I had to leave my old school and life behind. I also started my senior year at a new school. I may have given up a lot, but I have gained so much in return.

The purpose of this internship is to gain experience in a science career. I honestly believe I need to see everything first-hand so that I can understand and learn about my chosen career. That is the formula for becoming successful in any career, and not just for a career in science.

In my internship, I work in the Office of Scientific Operations, NCI at Frederick, which is responsible for communicating science and educating the public about the research conducted at NCI at Frederick. This internship has opened my eyes to another side of the science world: I have learned that communicating discoveries to the public is just as important as the actual research. I never thought about how I would communicate my future scientific research until I had this job. I have also learned that in my future science career, I will not only be working with other scientists, but I will also be working with support staff, who will help raise awareness and educate the public about my research.

I think I can speak for many interns when I say that we will not forget our experiences as interns. We all want to get somewhere in life while doing something we love. The one way we are all connected is through the love we have for science. This internship program gives us the ability to get a step closer to our chosen careers, whether in the field of science or not. In the process of learning more about our future careers, we will also learn about ourselves and life.

After my internship at NCI, I plan to become a biomedical engineer. I want to conduct research and develop new drugs. I am now even more committed to pursuing my scientific career when I graduate. Along with the confirmation that I actually want to be a scientist, I also have the advantage of being able to communicate within the field of science. I know what to expect from science courses that I will take in college. This internship is the best decision I could have made for my future.

Nathalie Walker, a senior at St. Maria Goretti High School, is a Werner H. Kirsten student intern in the Office of Scientific Operations, NCI at Frederick.