Summer Science Internships Provide Experience and Insight

When Keira Thompson ’22 displayed a particular slide from her summer science internship during a recent Upper School assembly, there was an audible gasp from the crowd.
It was an x-ray of an arm that had been severed during a car accident, and while it certainly added drama to the presentation, it was just one of many cases Thompson shadowed as part of her internship in the Orthopaedic Surgery Department at Boston Medical Center. The summer science internships, a signature Rivers program, send students into a variety of settings—medical, engineering, software, biosciences, robotics, and more—to gain substantive experience in those fields and see first-hand what a career in sciences can look like. The 17 students who participated this past summer reported on their experiences at the recent assembly. 
The process begins over the previous winter, when students apply for the internships and indicate their preferences. The intern hosts, many of whom have supported the program for years, are culled from connections within the Rivers community. Science faculty member and program coordinator Michael Schlenker says, “I'm very proud that the broader Rivers family of alumni, parents, and faculty steps up to provide such meaningful summer experiences for so many of our students who are interested in pursuing science as a part of their lives. It’s Rivers at its best.”

Thompson was delighted with her internship assignment. As someone who’s pondering such career options as medicine or biotech—“I love how science can translate into human impact,” she says—she found it especially meaningful to work at BMC, which is both a teaching hospital and a “safety-net” hospital, serving a diverse population.
Anna Monaghan ’22 was equally pleased with her internship, which took a very different direction. Monaghan spent her summer working at Brooks Automation, in the firm’s semiconductor division. “I was mostly doing NCs—nonconformances,” she explains. “All the pieces and parts of different robots that weren’t working were given to me and another girl who was interning there. We would take the part we were given, figure out what was wrong with it, find the part number, find the cost, and make recommendations based on the cost and the extent of the damage.” It’s exacting work that gave Monaghan a window into the world of engineers; it doesn’t hurt, she says, that she herself is “a little bit of a perfectionist.” At one point, she and the other intern were given a task to do—calibrating a robot arm—that took the engineer in charge two minutes. Monaghan and her fellow intern spent 30 minutes on the same task, which, she says, “gave me more appreciation for the engineers in that job.”

Learning and growth like Monaghan’s is a typical outcome. Says Schlenker, “I love hearing back from the intern hosts about how impressive our Rivers students are. Our students usually don’t know much at the start, but they really step up to the challenge of learning and contributing a lot by the end of the summer.”
At the recent assembly, students described a range of experiences, all of them substantive and marked by real responsibilities. Amanda Gary ’22 assisted a UCSD graduate student in her Alzheimer’s disease research. Natalia Ramos ’22 combined her interests in therapy and working with children during her internship at the Boston Ability Center. And Mia Simon ’22 and Julia Finney ’22 learned how to write code in Python while serving as interns at Amazon Robotics.
Several of the Rivers interns describe their experiences in detail on a blog that appears on the school website. Inevitably, there were frustrations and challenges—but there was always engagement, growth, and the excitement of learning about opportunities in the world of science.
As serious students of science, both Monaghan and Thompson are appreciative of the new Revers Center’s enhanced facilities. “I love that building,” says Thompson. “I’m doing an independent research project looking at antibiotic resistance in E. coli, and I’m using that research space to do the work.” Says Monaghan, co-leader of the Rivers Robotics Club, “It’s just such a beautiful space.”
Thompson was excited to have the opportunity to shadow dozens of surgeries over the course of the summer. “I enjoyed seeing the spine surgery, and also a shoulder surgery that involved a bone graft. That was really interesting to see,” she said.
But one of the most valuable takeaways was observing how the doctor treated the whole patient. “I got to see how Dr. Stein didn’t just address the orthopaedic case but really addressed the patient as a whole,” said Thompson. “I got to see what the life of a surgeon really is. You can think about medical care in the abstract, but seeing what the day-to-day is, the ins and outs of patient care, is really helpful in figuring out my future path.”