The importance of a research internship

How does an inquisitive undergraduate public health major find herself conducting bioethics research at one of the leading research institutions in the country? With a chance to reflect on a phenomenal year with Baylor College of Medicine’s Center of Clinical Ethics and Health Policy, I have been asking myself the same question. What started as a simple Google search trying to find something to get involved in during the summer turned into a yearlong, immersive internship opportunity where I learned both the foundations and the endless bounds of qualitative research. As an aspiring medical school student, I gained relevant knowledge in cutting-edge bioethics topics, improved my critical thinking and organization skills and received valuable mentorship from leading experts.

While my duties and expectations were laid out for me from the get-go and became a part of my weekly routine, my first 10 weeks as a summer intern were anything but ordinary. I mean, who would have thought that while looking into the Foster-Hicks Happiness Model I would have the chance to present my findings and partake in a meeting with Greg Hicks himself? Baylor’s research style emphasized collaboration and teamwork, and as a pre med student, I was thrilled to get connected with numerous industry professionals.  The summer culminated with a research showcase where I got to present my work as well as see the fantastic work of my peers, and subsequent reflection on my enriching experience made it clear: I did not want my time with Baylor to end here; I wanted more.  

As an intern with Baylor, I was always encouraged to voice my thoughts, whether it was with logistical preferences or sharing my ideas through presentations and monthly meetings with my mentor team. So, when I expressed interest to Dr. Amy McGuire, my mentor and director of the Center, to continue into the fall semester, I was encouraged to find a way I could continue to build on my project from the summer while also being an asset to McGuire’s ongoing research. This sort of support was crucial in building my confidence and igniting a domino effect within me: the more opportunities presented before me, the more comfortable I felt to dig deeper and seek out my interests within the projects I was working on.

My background in public health provided me with an excellent foundation and my desire to discover the interdisciplinary strengths and gaps in medicine, specifically cognitive and mental health, was also an underlying theme in all the projects I worked on. For example, I did a literature review on the social and ethical implications of biomarker disclosure to Alzheimer’s patients, which complemented undergraduate classes by displaying an example of multifaceted research that looked at factors outside the disease of interest that would affect the prognosis.

The development of annotated bibliographies and subsequent memos allowed me to understand the technicalities of scientific writing but, more importantly, learn the importance of immersing myself in literature. Reading became the cornerstone of my research experience at Baylor, and I was frequently reminded that it would continue to be if I pursued a career in medicine and research. Utilizing keywords to find relevant papers in databases and scanning the articles to pull out not only the main ideas, but also identifying the gaps or limitations became second nature and a highly resourceful tool in my work.

This internship has supplemented my college education in more ways than one, most notably by allowing me to engage in a professional workspace and interact with individuals who work at the highest caliber to decipher the implications of some of the newest scientific discoveries through work in bioethics and health policy. I parted ways with Baylor now with the same gut feeling from the end of the summer of wanting more. As I advance in my education and career, I am confident and excited to see the ways in which I will apply the skills I have learned in the past year and hope to pay them forward through future projects and scientific endeavors committed to the same level of excellence as Baylor.

By Sarah Eapen, a rising senior at The University of Texas at Austin and a student intern in the Baylor College of Medicine Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy



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