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Focus on Yale Child Study Center Summer Interns

August 07, 2012

While for many university settings the summer months are quieter, the activity in research labs at the Child Study Center begins to increase in May, with new, young faces appearing around every corner by the time July rolls around. Our department is fortunate to attract increasing numbers of students each summer who are both looking for research experiences that are on the cutting edge and want to engage in work that improves the lives of children. This year, approximately 60 students are here doing work within Child Study Center labs, becoming trained in conducting and presenting scientific research and clinical activities under the guidance of faculty members and clinical and postdoctoral fellows. The group includes undergraduate and medical students from Yale, undergraduates from other colleges spending the summer in Connecticut, and high school students from the surrounding areas. Some students come through special academic programs but most have simply discovered an interest in the field of children's mental health, sought out mentors and a research area, and arranged for their own summer experience. Several students are here for a second summer after having enjoyed their first internship either in the same lab or another in the department. "I enjoyed my first summer so much that I wanted to return to work with such a great mentor and learn more about the project I was involved in." said Sonia Lombroso, a high school student who has worked for two summers with Hanna Stevens. "I also think it's preparing me really well for future undergraduate research when I start at Wesleyan this fall."

The department offers a Friday seminar with lunch for 9 weeks, aimed at giving all of the interns from different parts of the department a sampling of the range of work at the Child Study Center. This year, these lectures included Fred Volkmar welcoming the interns and discussing latest advances in the field of autism, Michael Bloch presenting on Tourette syndrome, and Pia Britto discussing how to translate scientific findings into policy focused on child development. Not only do these seminars give all of the visiting students a chance to learn about more than just the activities of their laboratory, they give them a common experience. Interns come a few minutes early for the lecture to serve themselves lunch, chatting amongst themselves with friends they have made in their own labs and in the weekly seminar.

Different research groups enrich the experience of summer interns in different ways. The basic neuroscience labs bring summer interns into their weekly lab meetings which alternate between data discussions and journal clubs on the latest science published in the field. Basic science interns also benefit from a twice weekly seminar developed by Paul Lombroso, which reviews molecular biology and uses the Socratic method to engage students. Flora Vaccarino and Hanna Stevens also have students do a 15 minute oral presentation at the end of their time in the lab. Abby Sawyer, working in this lab group, reflected that giving a presentation "gives a good opportunity to bring together the details of the project and to have to explain to others about the bigger picture of why you are doing this research." Often, interns have a chance to attend departmental presentations aimed at wider audiences such as the Autism Summer Institute and the grand rounds presentations that occur in June. Linda Mayes with other collaborating scientists organizes an eight week internship with weekly lab meetings, weekly journal club with a related seminar, and weekly research project presentations by each PI. Interns who are involved in this program finish their project with the presentation of a poster. The poster session this year, on July 26th, was extremely well attended despite the hot and humid setting. Students described their experimental approach and data to attendees at their posters, often detailing how this experience has confirmed for them that a career in science and working for the mental health of children is what they will choose.

The vibrancy at the Child Study Center with so many energetic and bright interns here for the summer is palpable. In August, as many students leave the labs in which they have spent several weeks, many in these research groups note the changes-it's certainly easier to find time to work on popular computers and other pieces of equipment, but everyone misses the chance to engage with young, future scientists, teaching them new skills or engaging in thought-provoking scientific discussions.

Submitted by Justin Fansler on August 07, 2012