I am Harvard Catalyst: Researcher Interns and Mentors

Shepherding the Next Generation: Summer interns catalyze Harvard research while contemplating career opportunities in clinical and translational research.

Featured Interns and Mentors:

Visiting Research Internship Program (VRIP)

  • Juan Ortiz and mentor Dr. Stephanie Mueller
  • Theo Hill and mentor Dr. Peter Tonellato

Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program (SCTRP)

  • Komal Kothari and mentor Dr. Joe DeGutis
  • Diana Velez and mentor Katrina Hann
  • Ana Cadena and mentor Dr. Alexander Lin

Translational Activity:

Many students have never considered career paths in clinical and translational (C/T) research. They come to Harvard excited to discover the opportunities available to them from leaders in the field. They bring not only their curiosity and willingness to learn, but also energy and enthusiasm that can reinvigorate a lab. In the longer term, their involvement ultimately diversifies the landscape of leaders in the future for the field of clinical and translational science.

Impacting understanding and engagement with clinical and translational research

Positive mentored experiences can influence future generations to pursue careers in C/T research. Doing so feeds the pipeline with a talented workforce essential to continued scientific progress and innovation. The Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program (SCTRP) and the Visiting Research Internship Program (VRIP) are two training programs that capitalize on mentor-trainee relationships to engage students in clinical and translational research and provide them with an inside view on what that career path could be for them. Funded by Harvard Catalyst and administered through the Program for Faculty Development & Diversity Inclusion, both programs aim to enrich the understanding of and interest in clinical and translational research among students through first-hand exposure to C/T research careers. Students are matched with mentors from laboratories at HMS, the affiliated hospitals, and partner institutions, and spend their internships working on real-world research projects with training and support from subject matter experts.

This summer 16 students from across the United States, including Puerto Rico, came to Harvard to participate in the SCTRP and VRIP Programs. Both students and mentors share their experiences.

The 2011 Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program interns, from left to right: Komal Kothari, Yansel Nunez, Grace Woods, Jason Silvestre, Rashaad Joseph, Diana Velez, Ellese Carmona, Muriel Makamure, Cesar Soria, and Ana Cadena.

The 2011 Visiting Research Internship Program interns, from left to right:
Abby Agosto Ventura, Ana Mosquera Pelegrina, Mark Armanious, Theo Hill, Dalia Moghazy, and Juan Ortiz.

Interns at Harvard Catalyst

Theo Hill, a mentee in Dr. Peter Tonellato's laboratory in the HMS Center for (now Department of) Biomedical Informatics, gained greater clarity on clinical and translational research. "It's an opportunity to directly impact patients, to use technology to create better patient outcomes." Hill greatly enjoyed the setting created through the internship. "I have access to the top researchers and experts in the field -- interacting with them, exchanging ideas." He appreciated broadening his scope of understanding, insisting that, "I most enjoyed the freedom to think and really engage my intellectual curiosity." "Coming to Harvard," Theo claims, "permitted me to see all that's possible. I have a better career trajectory having been here."

"Now I know that there is a process for taking basic research findings and applying them to improve health."
Komal Kothari, Intern, SCTRP

Juan Ortiz from the University of Washington School of Medicine worked with Dr. LeRoi Hicks and Dr. Stephanie Mueller at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Ortiz conducted a retrospective analysis of data collected from patients admitted to the general medicine wards. "I'd heard about clinical and translational research when I first got to Harvard. I never expected that what I did this summer would impact my ideas about my career." His review helped to determine the literacy level of the discharge summaries and examined whether there was any association of patient characteristics, primarily language, with literacy level and whether or not patients used an interpreter.

"I never expected that what I did this summer would impact my ideas about my career."
Juan Ortiz, Intern, VRIP

Komal Kothari worked with Dr. Joe DeGutis at the Boston VA Hospital, researching attention and sleep in veterans suffering from PTSD. She had always been interested in pursuing a career in medicine but now is newly excited to understand that it's possible to have a clinical practice and contribute to progress in the field. "I'm encouraged about incorporating clinical and translational research into my work. I'm looking forward to a dynamic career." Komal thought the summer internship was very fulfilling. "Now I know that there is a process for taking basic research findings and applying them to improve health." She's more aware of the various stages of research, the process of creating therapeutics for humans, "...and I have a newfound appreciation for the regulations and protocols that are in place to protect patient's rights."

Mentors at Harvard Catalyst

Mentors across Harvard's academic research centers recognize the impact their summer interns have in their labs. They see the value of the increased productivity that they bring along with their built-in technology savvy. More than that, they appreciate the energy, enthusiasm, and fresh perspectives that the students bring.

"I have access to the top researchers and experts in the field -- interacting with them, exchanging ideas."
Theo Hill, Intern, VRIP

"Mentees have so much enthusiasm; they reinvigorate your own enthusiasm about what you're doing," says Dr. Stephanie Mueller from BWH. Her student intern, Juan Ortiz, came to the table very energized and proactive in terms of pursuing his goals. Dr. Alexander Lin from BWH has hosted two summer interns over the past two years. "The students are engaging. There's always something I learn from the process. It's a win-win situation."

"There's always something I learn from the process. It's a win-win situation."
Dr. Alexander Lin, Mentor, SCTRP

Dr. Tonellato echoes these sentiments, saying that mentees offer a "boost to the lab." "We host these summer interns because it actually is a catalyst to activity in the lab. We think about things in a new way. We think about tasks and projects that we might not be able to activate without their energy and commitment. We find it a very useful way to shake up the lab, get to look at questions that we maybe couldn't have."

Many mentors expressed the importance of leveraging multiple perspectives to creatively solve problems. Dr. Mueller recognizes that it's "extremely important to get other people's points of views. Diverse backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, and experiences bring so many things to table." Dr. DeGutis, mentor to Komal Kothari, confirms that he is always looking for people with different perspectives, different takes on things, creative solutions. "We don't have all of the answers and we like people who have different intuitions about solving problems."

Considering hosting an intern? Insights to other researchers from mentors

Practical wisdom from past mentors includes being flexible to match the intern's interests and skills level to an appropriate project and being open to the idea that this is an "experience," not just an opportunity to get work done. Lin urges prospective mentors to "really talk to your students, learn more about them, learn to see where they came from because that will help you understand them better." Tonellato advises that giving trainees an opportunity to participate with in-depth work requires time and focus. "They give a lot to the lab and to you and they need some care and tending in order to get a high quality experience out of the summer."

Some investigators see mentoring as a way to invest in the upcoming generation of C/T researchers, ultimately strengthening the potential of C/T science. By introducing these skills early in a trainee's career path, they will become more confident with their abilities. According to Mueller, "That confidence can then lead to a strong interest in a C/T career choice."

"We find it a very useful way to shake up the lab, get to look at questions that we maybe couldn't have."
Dr. Peter Tonalleto, Mentor, VRIP

Other investigators who have served as mentors for summer interns consider mentorship to be their way to give back to the community. DeGutis believes in launching people, encouraging his mentees with, "You're going to be here for some time and then you're going to take off and do something awesome with your life." Katrina Hann considers her mentorship role to be a long-term investment. She has seen "a lot of students come through, go off, and do wonderful things and then come back. They might go and work with our collaborators and so we will have that link in the future." The best praise a mentor can receive "is recognizing the role he or she played in the academic and career development of their trainees and peers," says HMS Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership, Joan Reede.

Resources Accessed

"I am Harvard Catalyst" is a series of spotlights on clinical/translational investigators, showcasing examples of innovation, collaboration, community engagement, or professional development that have been supported by Harvard Catalyst.