Mentoring Future Scientists
At the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, we take our commitment to mentoring young scientists and encouraging the next generation of investigators very seriously.
So when the directors of the World Science Academy, a pre-college program for gifted New York City high school students, approached us to host more than 100 local students and teach them about our work and mission, we quickly accepted and together developed a program that would be interesting and informative.
“I think every successful scientist can point to one or more mentors that came into their life at a very important time when they really needed career advice and nurturing,” said Olivier Elemento, PhD, Director of the EIPM. “We recognize, through our new summer internship program and other less formal opportunities, that we have an obligation to help students like the ones we met through the World Science Academy. And because we’re an academic medical institution, we feel a special responsibility to give back to the young people in local community.”
The students arrived on campus after classes on Monday, October 29th, and listened to Dr. Elemento explain the mission and research goals of the EIPM, and then heard from Ruth Gotian, EdD, WCM’s Assistant Dean for Mentoring, who offered tips on selecting and working with mentors and advisors to help students navigate their future academic and professional careers.
The students then split into groups and headed to the Belfer Research Building to rotate through four breakout sessions designed to introduce them to precision medicine concepts and tools.
In the first breakout session, Research Lab Coordinator David Wilkes, Ph.D., and colleagues provided a tour of the 14th floor laboratory facilities and provided students with the opportunity to conduct microscopic examinations of three-dimensional cellular structures called organoids to see how scientists identify the best treatment for patients in the lab. Laura Martin, Ph.D., an EIPM Postdoctoral Associate, said, “It was very exciting to talk to all of these brilliant NYC high school students about organoid technology in precision medicine. It was clear that this topic piqued their interest and curiosity as they asked a lot of specific questions.”
EIPM Research Technician Kevin Newhall and colleagues led the second session that involved a workshop where students extracted DNA from strawberries using common household materials to see first-hand how DNA can be isolated without a machine and illustrate how researchers find mutations that allow them to target disease. “The students really loved the DNA extraction workshop,” said Mr. Newhall. “Even though the extraction was from a strawberry, it was clear they grasped how we would use the same principles on tumor samples. I was incredibly impressed with their ability to ask the important “why” questions about the process.”
A third breakout session provided students with a basic coding overview and demonstration of our HoloLens by EIPM staff members Alex Sigaras, Senior Research Associate in Computational Biomedicine, and Pantelis Zisimopoulos, a Full Stack Software Engineer. The students stepped into a virtual world with Microsoft’s HoloLens to learn how scientists and doctors use this new technology to create more immersive experiences that allow them to visualize and collaborate on complex data sets. “It is always a pleasure showcasing our current work and vision for the future of healthcare to bright young minds,” said Mr. Sigaras. “Their questions and approach to science always leaves me with positive feelings that the future is in very good hands.”
Finally, Operations Manager Jeff Catalano, M.A., led a breakout session on patient care and subsequent discussion on the clinical genome pipeline. The students learned about the experience of a patient who takes part in a precision medicine research study, and followed a hypothetical patient’s journey from consent to testing, diagnosis, and treatment. “It is always inspiring to see such young insightful minds express an interest in a novel and emerging field like precision medicine,” observed Mr. Catalano. “Their curiosity and enthusiasm towards Clinical Genomics are indicative of a bright future ahead.”
After the event, Caroline Gelb, Associate Director of Education and Outdoor Programming for the World Science Festival wrote to us: “Thank you for a terrific day. It was very clear that the students realized what an amazing and unique opportunity you gave them. While there was lots of chatter after among the students, I think one quote sums it up best. A young man from Staten Island’ Curtis High School told Dr. Elemento, ‘I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but now I’m rethinking it and may be interested in precision medicine.’”
We’re so happy the event was meaningful and informative for so many young people, many of whom promised to apply for our 2019 Summer Internship Program. We look forward to seeing them next year!
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