Science Internships Create Unique Learning Opportunities

How CGMs work. How to build and test robots. How to code in Python. Performing a SWOT analysis. How to use APIs to search a website for data. Don’t drop DNA down the hood vent.
These were a few of the many lessons learned by students who participated in this summer’s Science Internship Program. 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 firsthand what a career in sciences can look like.
Last Friday, at an all-school meeting, the summer science interns—all members of the Class of ’23—made presentations to the community about their experiences. This report is one of the required elements of the program; each student must also write a lengthy blog post describing exactly how the internship played out.
Long before they reach that point, however, the students go through an extensive application process over the previous winter. Explains science faculty member Michael Schlenker, who runs the program, “They have to write a cover letter. They have to write a one or two-page essay on why they like science and what interests them. They have to sit for an interview with me.”
Part of the reason for this in-depth process is to assess the student’s interest, the better to match them with a suitable internship. “There’s real value when the internship has a 100 percent overlap with what you might be interested in pursuing,” says Schlenker, noting that this year, there were several new internship opportunities for students. But, he adds, “There’s also a decent amount of value if you know you’re not going into the thing the internship is about. There’s value in learning how a business works, how a hospital works, whether you like big teams or detailed scientific work, whether you like medicine, whether you like surgery, how real scientists approach a program, how to manage accountability, and so on.”
He also sees opportunity, he says, in the more humbling aspects of internships. “I give them a pep talk every year, telling them that at Rivers, they are the focus of what most people are doing on this campus. When they start at the internship, they are not the focus. They are at the bottom. They’re trying to find a way to add value.”
Make no mistake, though: While interns may be at the bottom of the pecking order within any organization, the Rivers summer science interns are not merely fetching coffee and filing. At Friday’s assembly, Abby Matsuyasu and Jacob Sardinha described working at the Burns Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, where zebrafish are bred to model human cardiovascular disease. The students helped breed the fish, using intentional genetic mutations to study cardiovascular defects. They genotyped the subjects by extracting genomic DNA and applying PCR techniques, imaged hearts using confocal microscopy, and participated in discussions of scientific papers and articles.
Jackie Lee interned at a busy pediatrics practice in Brockton, shadowing doctors and assisting with young patients; a highlight was removing a suture. (“A stitch,” she added, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the medical term.) Grace Brosnan sat in on some 900 clinical appointments during her stint working with an orthopedic surgeon at Boston Medical Center. Eli Helzberg worked with Klett Consulting Group (run by Rivers alumnus Mark Klett ’71) to research solar technologies, write a white paper, and create a social media campaign and marketing strategy around the company’s solar street-light product.
The internships cover a tremendous range of topics and areas within the STEM fields, and each offered an opportunity for learning in ways both anticipated and unexpected. How to use the Orange Line. How to break out of an escape room. Nurses are tough cookies. How to neatly stack boxes. For each intern, there were different takeaways, but the Friday presentation and the blog posts cumulatively point to a common throughline: How to be a professional.