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Undergraduate Biology Internship Stories:

Don't Be Afraid of Making Mistakes

“The first day of my internship, I was petrified,” says BU junior Stephanie DeLuca. Not only was her boss’ reputation riding on the quality of the work she would be doing that summer, but all of her measurements would be done using a delicate probe that cost the lab about $1000 each! And that certainly wasn’t the most expensive piece of equipment at the lab bench either!

Though she didn’t break the probe, DeLuca inevitably made a few mistakes during her 2½ months at the Montefiore Medical Center—all interns do. Researchers that take on interns know this, and are prepared for it. “My boss was very understanding and helpful,” says DeLuca, “Everyone wanted everyone else to succeed. It was not cut-throat and competitive.” Furthermore, DeLuca found that making a mistake, instead of signaling the end of a research career, could be beneficial. “My boss always emphasized that you can learn from your mistakes, and that that's how great discoveries are made," she says.

Despite her initial fears, DeLuca was well-qualified to be working in Dr. Diana Casper’s Neurosurgery research lab at Montefiore Medical Center. A Bio major and a pre-med student, DeLuca’s passion for research began with an extensive research project in high school and continued throughout her first internship at the Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Summer ‘08. 

DeLuca became interested in working with Dr. Casper almost by accident. Initially, she had hoped to get funding through a SURF program to do research at UConn during Summer ‘09. After getting waitlisted for that program—quite a feat, considering UConn only accepts 5 applicants in the entire nation—DeLuca needed a “Plan B.” So she sent her resume around to local research labs, including to the Director of Research at Montefiore, and waited to see if anyone would respond.  Dr. Casper’s work in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease intrigued DeLuca, both because of her interest in neuroscience and because of the presence of Alzheimer’s in her own family.

During her unpaid internship with Dr. Casper, DeLuca researched the effects of an electromagnetic field on cells’ production of nitric oxide, a molecule that’s important in several signaling pathways. She found that electromagnetism, in conjunction with a molecule called 6-hydroxydopamine, increases nitric oxide production. Since nitric oxide can increase neuronal survival, this treatment may potentially be used to delay the onset of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. 

DeLuca does not begrudge the long hours she spent in lab in order to get these results, despite the lack of pay. "My internship was an investment for my future," she says. In addition to gaining valuable research skills and experience, she also obtained two excellent recommendation letters from the faculty she researched with—a valuable currency when applying to medical school, graduate school, or for scholarships.

There were other, more personal compensations as well.  "Believe it or not, doing research taught me a lot about life,” she says, “Before then, I had always believed that if you put the work into something, it'll turn out right at the end. My internship taught me that you're not always going to get the results you're expecting, and you've just got to go with it."

DeLuca enjoyed her internship at Montefiore Medical Center so much that she plans to continue working with Dr. Casper next summer, and is applying for funding through the Parkinson's Disease Foundation Fellowship. DeLuca hopes to make research a lifelong career, after becoming a medical practitioner.

by Sarah E. Fecht

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Last Updated: 3/9/10