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Environmental Factor, July 2012

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Zeldin welcomes 2012 summer interns to NIEHS

By Ian Thomas

Darryl Zeldin, M.D.

As he talked about the summer internship experience, Zeldin reminisced about his own path from a young and curious student to the top scientific leadership post in the NIEHS Division of Intramural Research. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS summer interns

The students begin their internships in May or June, depending on when their school years end. For some of the interns, the summer project can lead to a publication or a presentation at a professional meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

High school and college students from across the country gathered in Rodbell Auditorium for the June 14 kickoff of the 2012 NIH Summer Internship Program at NIEHS, which runs from May until August. Led by Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., the meeting provided participants with a snapshot of what to expect from their time at the Institute, followed by a lengthy question and answer session about the program.

“Over the next several weeks, you’re going to experience a lot, so don’t be shy about asking questions,” said Zeldin, who opened his talk with a handful of entertaining photographs from his high school and college days. “Ultimately, your time here will be what you make of it, so be proactive with your mentors and get involved in everything that you can.”

A plethora of experiences

Throughout the summer, students will work alongside many of the top researchers and staff at NIEHS, contributing to projects and conducting lab work as part of a comprehensive, hands-on learning curriculum. During their time at NIEHS, interns have the option of focusing on any number of environmental health specialties, such as DNA repair, cancer biology, bioinformatics, or clinical research. 

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Hannah Leker, a public health major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “At this point in my career, I haven’t completely decided on which direction I want to go, so the chance to get involved in a little of this and a little of that is really exciting.”   

This notion of branching out into a variety of different areas proved to be a major theme of the morning, as pointed out by Zeldin.

“Between now and the fall, you’ll be exposed to everything from bench work in a lab to clinical research, some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t,” said Zeldin, who elaborated on some of the pros and cons of an M.D. versus a Ph.D., as well as the types of career paths that are associated with each. “The hope is that, by the time you leave here, you’ll have a much clearer idea of where you want to focus your studies going forward.” 

As in past years, the high point of the program will be the end-of-summer poster session July 26, when students get to show off what they’ve learned during their time in the lab, which could potentially lead to a publication or presentation at a professional meeting.

Taking time

At the end of the talk, Zeldin reminded the students that while it’s important to be proactive, it’s equally as important to take one’s time, both during the internship and beyond. 

“Environmental health isn’t going anywhere,” said Zeldin. “Take your time in school and find that one specific area of the field that most excites you, then build your career on it.  Do that and you’ll be both happy and successful as a scientist.” 

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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