Student Interns Share the Spirit of Science

By Julianne Heberlein, Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern, Contributing Writer; photos by Paige Kefauver, Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern, Staff Photographer
Students using  pipettes.

Werner H. Kirsten student intern Jules Chabot, right, practices pipetting while assisted by Anna Trofka, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory.

They came for a science lesson. They left with more.

The new Werner H. Kirsten student interns filed into the auditorium in Building 549 to expand their knowledge of fundamental laboratory practices, as part of the Science Skills Boot Camp. A panel of presenters instructed the attendees on skills such as reading scientific papers effectively, practicing proper research ethics, and conducting professional presentations.

Scientific Program Manager Ulrike Klenke, Ph.D., NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education, started the June event by welcoming her audience and encouraging the interns to break away from their familiar groups of classmates and to socialize with others from different schools and counties. After congratulating the 61 audience members for being a portion of the 1,100 interns working for NIH this summer, Klenke introduced the NIH mission: “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”

Klenke then asked the interns what they thought a typical research experience is. It appeared this was an unusual question for high school students, who have not gained much experience with scientific research. But Klenke said she felt this question was vital because she wanted her audience to think more broadly about science in a laboratory environment.

In response, some interns argued that scientific research is “a project that requires preparation to eventually find results,” or “a long-term laboratory experiment.” However, after some debate, the group decided that there is no typical research experience. Or, as Klenke put it, “science is not a nine-to-five job.”

If science is not an eight-hour work day, then what is it?

Merriam-Webster defines science as “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.” Several of the interns weighed in as to what science means to them.

Science is “a lifelong process. You can’t just put it on hold,” according to Jules Chabot, Gene Regulation and Chromosome Biology Laboratory.

Daniel Yoon, Laboratory of Cell and Developmental Signaling, agreed that science is not on a restricted schedule. “Science shouldn’t be a nine-to-five job. It’s not my job or occupation,” he said. Science is Yoon’s academic ambition, but his motivation stems from the heart. As he put it, “It’s a hobby I love. It’s like if you have a lead, you should follow it.”

As an intern seeking the knowledge and experience of working in a scientific field, Yasmine Boumaiz, Office of Scientific Operations, said, “Science is a question. In fact, it is building on questions upon questions. It is indefinite, always evolving.”

Each intern had a different interpretation of science, whether it is a lifelong passion, a hobby, or defined by a simple sentence or a lengthy explanation. All together, they seemed to agree that, while the practice of science may seem rock solid, in reality it is always evolving—amorphous, defined without a clear shape or form.

While the interns adopted new science skills, more importantly, they left with a realization that the meaning of science is not set in stone.

Sinnie Ng, Ph.D., post-doctoral research fellow, Human Retrovirus Section, Vaccine Branch, presents information to the interns about reading a scientific paper.