Research Opportunities (and how to find them)!

Victoria Shen/ Cell and Molecular Biology, COS ’21

Today’s post is going to be all about the exciting world of undergraduate research. I am going to focus on my personal research experiences: on/off campus and during classes/while on co-op. To preface, I have always been really interested in research and knew it was something I wanted to continue and further explore in college; however, after completing a more traditional wet lab internship in high school, I got the sense that traditional “lab work” wasn’t 100% my thing (I enjoy lab work, but I LOVE clinical research). I wanted to point this out because as a pre-health student, I have definitely been involved in a bit more uncommon research projects. Research is not limited to wet lab work, there’s a ton of options for ALL majors. 

I started my most substantial project in high school during my first Summer Internship Program (SIP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. I ended up completing 2 SIPs for this particular project and kept working part-time for multiple years. I am actually still somewhat involved to this day. It is crazy to think that it will be four years since I started in June. I had the amazing experience of working on a cross-institute team involving the National Cancer Institute’s Neuro-Oncology Branch and Clinical Center’s Radiology department. During my internships, I performed different methods of measurement (essentially 1D, 2D, and 3D) on patient MRIs from a then-ongoing phase II cancer therapy clinical trial. The main goal of my project was to find the best measurement method in terms of minimizing the time burden associated with the gold standard volumetric measurements and increasing upon measurement sensitivity to tumor morphology over time from the current 1D criteria. 

I not only got to work on a very interesting project (I am really interested in using imaging to improve patient outcomes), but I had an amazing learning environment and mentors at the NIH. I also got to present my project in the form of poster presentations, talks, and even got to publish a paper. This experience really helped me with my undergraduate coursework and is helping me get through my Biology Capstone graduation requirement currently. If you are interested in research (whether it be biology, medical, computer science, deep learning, public health, statistics) I highly recommend looking into the NIH SIP program, there’s a ton of resources online regarding the whole application process and what the program entails.  

I loved my experience at the NIH so much that I actually self-developed a co-op at the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Similar to how I found my previous SIPs at the NIH, I contacted researchers that were conducting research that I am genuinely interested in. I was so lucky to hear back from a clinician-scientist that I have wanted to learn from since high school. This past Fall, I worked in the NIDCRs Oral Immunology Unit. Since I was working remotely due to COVID restrictions, my project was quite a bit different than originally planned. But, everything truly worked out. I got to learn how to use RStudio to perform single cell RNA seq analysis, which is a super helpful research tool. My project focused on using RNA seq to find genes of interest for Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease. I am actually still working with the unit part-time and will be completing my third NIH SIP this summer with them. 

As for on campus research, I had the super unique opportunity of working on a project in Northeastern’s history department last spring (2020). Under the Health, Humanities, and Society research grant, I was able to research colonial medicine in 17th century Boston. Using online databases, I looked into where healthcare practitioners could be found, where they practiced, and the communities they served. This mini project was under a larger project (the Birth of Boston) led by Professor Christopher Parsons. I was not really exposed to this type of research before learning about this project in my History of Medicine class that I took that past fall semester. I am so grateful to have found this opportunity, especially as I got to explore my research interest in the accessibility of healthcare while also being able to learn about a completely new-to-me sector of research. 

There are a ton of research opportunities out there for you to find and explore, no matter what you plan on majoring in. I hope a quick overview of some of my experiences has demonstrated that in some way! Some opportunities are advertised more, others will take some digging to find. Just find what you are interested in and see if there is a research group around you that might be open to letting you learn and potentially contribute to their projects. As always if you have any questions, feel free to send an email – I am here to help!

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