The interns are coming, the interns are coming…

There’s a flurry of activity right now on the normally quiet 4th floor where my office is.  Curious to find out what’s going on, I asked Pallavi Ishwad, in charge of outreach activities for PSC, whose office is a couple doors down from mine.  “We’re preparing for the MARC interns and workshop,” she said. Oh, now I remember!  Every year in June PSC brings in students from minority serving institutions (MSIs) all over the country to participate in this program.  PSC’s MARC program, led by Hugh Nicholas, is funded by the National Institutes of Health Minority Access to Research Careers Program. The overarching goal of the PSC program is to help establish and integrate bioinformatics in graduate and undergraduate courses at these institutions.

During the summer, June 3 through August 2, eight students (four males and four females) will participate in an intense nine-week program not only to learn how to execute their research projects, or “do research,” but just as importantly, to improve non-science skills to aid in writing peer-reviewed research papers and journal articles and to be able to present scientific work at national and international conferences.

I went to the right person to ask about all this because, as it turns out, Pallavi is taking a more active role in helping to mentor the interns. The program’s mentors make sure, among other things, the interns stay on track with their projects.  Once a week the students have to present their progress to the staff. It’s during this time problems can be caught early on and students can refine, if necessary, their goals for their specific projects.

I was curious to find out what projects these interns would be working on.  I was even more curious about how their projects were selected. Well, the specifics vary and I admit my eyes did glaze over when I asked the project’s co-investigator Alex Ropelewski, and he mentioned RNA, Trinity and guinea fowl in the same sentence.  TMI for this blog! I did, however,  glean from our conversation that Trinity is the name of a software program some of the interns will be using to assemble their sequence data.

Throughout the year, leading up to this summer program, Alex, Hugh, Pallavi and other project staff travel to and work with liaisons at five MSIs—Tennessee State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Johnson C. Smith University, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, and Jackson State University—developing bioinformatics under the grant. The summer internship program is open to students at other MSIs as well and this year includes interns from the University of Texas at El Paso and Morgan State University.

One example is a project being researched by incoming intern Aryan Vahedi-Faridi from Morgan State University. He has data from an experiment that compares the effect of sleep deprivation stress on gene expression in the brain and hopes to analyze this data during his internship.  He wants to understand how the different signaling pathways are affected by this type of stress and relate these findings about sleep deprivation and perhaps treatment of these symptoms. Another intern, Kayla Hinson from the University of Texas at El Paso, wishes to expand her work on population biology and genetics of freshwater invertebrates. Her focus will be on arsenic detoxification pathways and identifying potential detoxifying enzymes in an aquatic model organism. You get the idea. This is serious. And intense! And I now know way more than I intended about correlation values, spicing variants and microarrays.

I’ll be following along this summer to see how they are progressing. I might even attend one or two of the weekly sessions so I can report back to you later on how the program is going. So stay tuned!


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