Why STEM Internships are Important

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By Ryla Pasaoa, Science and Technology Editor

As acceptance rates to elite schools drop and the job market becomes progressively competitive, it is increasingly apparent that summer research internships are beneficial experiences for students in all grade levels and areas of study.

“The bottom line of the importance of doing a research internship is that you get to learn stuff,” said biology and science research teacher Katherine Cooper. “Kids can only learn so much in a classroom.” By doing an internship, students acquire the opportunity to learn how to simplify complex data and raise questions that can be answered by the information that is accessible to them.

There are a variety of ways to apply for internships for high school students. “Kids in our science research program are required to have a mentor willing to allow them to use their labs by the start of their senior year. Some get in contact with mentors by applying for summer programs at institutions like Weill Cornell Medicine or Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). Others contact researchers directly [via email] by looking them up on hospital and medical school websites,” said Ms. Cooper. “For those not in science research, the process is similar.”

Senior Lucia Lin took part in the seven-week intensive Garcia Research Scholar Program at Stony Brook University. “The program is based on materials science and engineering. Materials science studies the way materials behave and how we can use the properties of certain materials to improve the world that we live in,” Lucia explained. “The Garcia Center faculty, students, and staff encouraged us to publish in scientific journals and present our projects at national conferences. We were also able to learn about the studies of several experienced scientists that are at the forefronts of polymer science and technology.”

Students do not have to travel far from New York City to find a research opportunity. Junior Esther Chai participated in the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis (HOPP) Summer Student Program at MSK in the Upper East Side. “HOPP is for high schoolers who are interested in careers in biomedical sciences. You’re matched with a principal investigator (PI) who specialized in an area of cancer research like genomics operations, breast cancer, or leukemia,” Esther said. “We weren’t stuck in a lab all day, though. We were able to tour different departments, look at preserved samples of tumor tissue, and have luncheons with other kids in the program and their PIs. The researcher would talk about [his or her] career and how it related to their studies.”

Regardless of the research internship a student chooses, at the core of every program is an investment in one’s future. Ms. Cooper remarked that “by gaining research experience, [students] learn if it’s something that they are interested in pursuing as a career and how to tackle scientific hurdles with enthusiasm and seriousness.”