A Postcard From: Viktoriia Borodina ’21


A typical FACS analysis procedure.

Name: Viktoriia Borodina
Class Year: 2021
Major: Biology (prospective)
Hometown: Novosibirsk, Russia

Internship Location: Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
Title: Research Intern
City: St. Louis, Mo.

This summer, I was privileged to be selected for the Leah Menshouse Springer Summer Opportunities Program that allows undergraduate students to pursue research in various biomedical fields. I was assigned to work at the Dr. Pachynski’s lab that is focused on cancer immunotherapy research.

As a part of the internship, I had a chance to develop and work on an independent research project which was also focused on cancer immunotherapy investigations. Specifically, I investigated whether the CMKLR1 receptor (chemokine-like receptor for which chemerin serves as a ligand) may be induced on T-cells and NK-depleted splenocytes in the presence of various factors present in the tumor microenvironment. The field of cancer immunotherapy has been rapidly developing in the past decade, as it allows to use patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Some of my daily responsibilities included obtaining splenocytes and isolating various immune cells from mice to plate in various factors, stain with fluorescent antibodies and analyze those cells later on.

I applied for this internship to gain first-hand research experience in the area of medical research. Further, I have worked on various immunology research projects in Spain before, and was thrilled to apply these skills to the oncology research.

My biggest challenge was working independently in the laboratory – while I had research experience before, I always had a research supervisor closely working with me. This time, however, I had a chance to develop and carry out a research project in a new area for me. While working with various reagents and equipment on my own was challenging at first, this experience had truly made me a better scientist.

Dr. Pachynski’s Lab group photo.

The skills I learned at the lab are much more universal than I have expected them to be. While I have learned the basic molecular biology and immunology laboratory techniques, there were many other skills that are easily applied outside of laboratory. I have frequently used data analysis software for large amounts of data, as well as enhanced my knowledge and proficiency in the Office apps and online research. Besides, developing a project allowed me to develop critical thinking, persistence and being comfortable with risk.

Working in a hood.

A Postcard From: Linghan Mei ’19

Name: Linghan Mei
Class Year: 2019
Major: Biology and German
Hometown: Urumqi, China

This summer I worked in a transporter biology lab at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. I applied to this internship because I had hoped to experience biomedical research in a slightly different capacity after working in the Brodfuehrer Lab in the Biology Department on campus for a whole year. It was a refreshing change of scenery living in the Midwest, and working in a large medical center provided me with excellent mentorship and opportunities to attend lectures given by top-notch clinicians and researchers.

Working in a lab where the mentors have less pedagogical responsibilities is interesting since everyone in the lab is fully devoted to pushing the research progress forward. This was initially challenging to me as the pace at work can seem very stressful, and it’s not uncommon to have a full house in lab even on weekends. Nevertheless, my mentors provided us a conducive environment for learning. My peers and I were required to present on our individual progress every week at lab meeting and participate in seminars given in the department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering. I was encouraged to question the approaches that we used in the project and think critically about the strengths and limitations of different approaches. I also attended weekly mini-lectures on physiology of the kidney and urinary system which gave me a taste of the density of lectures in graduate school.

What I enjoy the most was working with both young and experienced researchers with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds. I was drawn to engineering because of its ability to translate knowledge into solution and this process of translation takes expertise in almost all the fundamental sciences. The effective integration of different ways of thinking always proves to be the key to success.

The graduate school played an important role in supporting us by organizing various panels and networking events that connected us with clinicians, researchers, and graduate students of diverse backgrounds. As a rising senior, their great advice and fascinating stories helped me put things into perspective and feel more confident and assured about my career path.

A Postcard From: Zainab Batool ’21

Name: Zainab Batool
Class Year: 2021
Major: Physics
Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan

Internship Placement: Photonics Center, Boston University
Job Title: Undergraduate Researcher
Location: Boston

I worked as an undergraduate researcher at the Photonics Center, Boston University, from May 21 to July 30. The project I worked on is under the domain of CELL-MET funded by an NSF grant and involves assembling high-resolution magnetometers. The aim of the project is to then use these magnetometers in cardiac disease detection as they were able to detect micro magnetic fields produced by organs in the human body, as well to create functionalized fabricated heart tissue patches (“heart on a chip” technology). It is not only interesting due to the various techniques involved but also because of its relevance to human needs where millions of people worldwide suffer from cardiac diseases such as heart arrhythmias.

My tasks included assembling these magnetometers by modifying a cheap, widely available accelerometer produced commercially and then further characterizing it. I also had to give bi-weekly presentations on research papers printed in many different physics/engineering fields.

I and other undergraduate researchers at the center also had different meetings and activities during the week, some of which involved nanofabrication sessions in which we prepared gold plated silicon wafers as well as talks on entrepreneurship and resume building, among other things.

I applied for the Bryn Mawr Summer Science Research program to work under the supervision of Professor Xuemei Cheng from the Physics Department and expressed an interest in biophysics in my interaction with her. When I got into the program she suggested the opportunity for me to work at Boston University and I jumped at the chance to not only work at such a top-notch research university but also to be able to experience life in Boston for a full 10 weeks!

Apart from all the academic takeaways of this summer I also fell in love with Boston during this time. It seemed to me the perfect mix of busy and happening and yet also peaceful. The best thing about the city is how expansive it is in terms of what it has on offer — all you need to do is take the “T” and you are free to go on a “duck tour” or try out Turkish cuisine or just head over to the beautiful Boston Public Library.

The most rewarding aspect of the entire summer for me was the ability to live independently — I was surprised how good I was at “adulting.” From cooking my own food to taking care of the apartment I lived in to silly roommate spats, it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be.

My internship can be summed up well with the adjectives independent, busy and educational, while the nouns that pop into my head for it are lots of reading (and then some more), magnets and microscopes.

A Postcard From: Joy Rukanzakanza ’19

Name: Joy Rukanzakanza
Class Year: 2019
Major: International Studies
Hometown: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Internship: BlackRock Inc.
Title: Aladdin Client Services Intern
Location: New York, Summer 2019

When I received my internship offer from BlackRock last fall, I had mixed emotions. I was ecstatic for a golden opportunity to engage a firm which is the world’s largest in the asset management industry, given my non-traditional academic background. However, my emotions were vacillating owing to this overwhelming inherent fear of failure. I would have to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world, get affordable housing, figure out my way around the city and find a group of friends to ensure I keep my sanity during the summer. All of this was worsened by the fact that I am not a finance major, neither am I an economics guru nor a computer science student and here I was, about to pursue a 10-week program at a Wall Street firm with a role that integrated my Achilles heels — finance and technology.

It wasn’t until my internship commenced that I realized that no amount of preparation could have readied me for the summer, because even if one had vast backgrounds in both finance and technology, BlackRock was still a new company with different subject matters and different ways of tackling different challenges. The first two weeks were extremely challenging because we underwent intensive coding drill sessions, which exposed me to so many new ways of solving problems and still enlightened me on how much I did not know — which meant sleepless study nights during the summer.  Instead of that demoralizing me, it prompted me to develop strategies on how to be an excellent performer despite having minimal resources and background knowledge. I found myself strategically devising ways of not only being a good fit for the role but of making the role a good fit for me as well.

At the BlackRock Office — New York.

I looked no further than my major. Being an International Studies major meant that I had enjoyed the benefits of pursuing a plethora of disciplines in the social sciences field — from studying ethnography in anthropology to learning about the impact of power struggles in political science. This course load helped me develop a holistic view of the world, shape different patterns of thought around issues that affect us on a daily and consolidated my presentation and teamwork capabilities since there were group presentations on almost every course I took. I therefore applied my presentation skills which were constantly sculpted during my academic career at Bryn Mawr during the internship, which worked in my favor since group presentations formed the core of my internship experience. As an intern in the Aladdin Client Services (ACS) division, a role which requires one to constantly communicate with clients and tackle challenging problems with the most professional demeanor, applying that skillset helped set a solid foundation for success during the summer.

Apart from learning about the business of the firm, the internship proffered me opportunities to establish professional and social networks through avenues such as coffee chats, firm-wide social events and volunteering opportunities. Most importantly, I was honored to be part of an organization that not only cares about delivering high-quality service to its clients, but also cares about the communities those clients come from as well. It is such principles, coupled with a fulfilling summer experience, that therefore aided my decision to return to BlackRock for a full-time opportunity next year.

Community Service Day — Governor’s Island.

With some of my intern friends at the firm-wide social event — Boat Basin.

That joyful moment when you have just finished your capstone project presentation.

A Postcard From: Ralitsa Mihaylova ’21

Name: Ralitsa Mihaylova
Class Year: 2021
Major: Physics, Math
Hometown: Bunde, The Netherlands

Internship Placement: Bishop Lab, Photonics Center
Job Title: Research summer intern
Location: Boston University

Hi there! My name is Ralitsa and I’m a rising sophomore, planning to be a physics and mathematics major. Over the course of this summer, I had the honor of joining the Bishop lab at Boston University’s Photonics Center in one of their projects––namely, building a magnetometer to be used under the newly-awarded Cell-Met NSF grant.

Now what does this all mean? And what role did it exactly play? Professor Bishop was one of the few professors amongst many partner schools who received the above-mentioned grant, which has the objective of being able to make personalized heart tissue within the next 10 years. Cell-Met plans on doing this by relying on two key inventions: the first being the 2009 Nobel Prize in biology which found that one could take any cell from your body––be it a skin cell or a lung cell, for example––and “reprogram” it to become a stem cell again (meaning it can become any type of cell). The second imperative finding used in Cell-Met is the use of millimeter scale “pools” with two little pillars in them, in which these newly-programed stem cells can become not only the cell that the lab desires them to be, but also make them form a uniform tissue.

This personalized tissue, which in our research is predominantly heart tissue, has a promising future in treating the leading cause of death for Americans: heart disease. My very small role in this was building the apparatus necessary to understand the behavior of these new heart cells, called a magnetometer. A magnetometer is a device which measures the magnetic field surrounding it with a certain resolution. Although in the Cell-Met grant the definite setup is yet to be determined, the use of magnets and magnetic fields to characterize these cells and tissues is indispensable––which is where my device came in. My task for the summer was to make a magnetometer through the modification of an accelerometer––a device that measures acceleration––by using micro-gluing techniques to make a tripod of micron-sized spheres and then deposit a magnet on top of it. In essence, the magnet will react to a surrounding magnetic field, making the already constructed accelerometer sense the magnet’s responding movement, which makes the device read out a value that can be used to understand the behavior of said magnetic field.

Looking back upon this experience, it gave me more than I could have hoped for when I was deciding to apply. Back in spring semester, the opportunity seemed appealing as I had a rising interest in engineering and the idea of seeing physics being applied in other fields was something I just hadn’t had much experience in before. But, now, I realize it gave me much more than just a summer filled with engineering and biological applications––from learning more about different applications of magnetometers and other micro-electromechanical devices, to challenging my own critical thinking with every sub-project I undertook––it gave me a feeling of being part of a bigger cause that could really do something incredible.


A Postcard From: Hanxiao Lu ’20

This summer, I interned at the investment banking division of the CCB principal Capital Management Co., Ltd. The company is located in Beijing, the capital of China. So far, I have been working here for seven weeks, and I can feel that my vision about financial industry and my future career life are already renewed.

Beijing is a very overwhelming city. To work and to live here requires a very high cost for housing. There are overwhelmingly many people on the morning subway. However, by overwhelming I do not mean it in a totally negative way. There is also a kind of hope that provides overwhelming power among the people here to face the struggles in their life.

Not sure if Beijing is the right city for me yet, but I am already attracted by the challenging and enriching tasks in the financial industry. In the department I am interning at, we are focusing on one investment banking product, which is called asset-back securitization. The asset-back securitization is a security that pools the asset into financial instruments, which allows them to be sold to general investors. The pools of underlying assets can be common payments from credit cards, auto loans, and mortgage loans, etc.

The project I am involved is with China Construction Seventh Engineering Division Corporation Ltd. We are going to create an asset pool of 900,000,000 RMB and make them to be securities. During this project, I have the opportunity to learn and actually calculate some significant data, audit the financial statements, edit and proofread the contracts, etc. As I get to understand the whole process of issuing and selling the securities, I become more aware of the importance of some mathematical tools that I learned back to school. This insight is very inspiring for a mathematics major like myself.

In addition, I also learn some skills that are not typically taught in a liberal arts college. For instance, to set up charts with a number of data and calculate the number we desire, we need to be able to manage to use Excel and to convey the data we get, we need to use PowerPoint. It is definitely a different scenario from making a chart and PowerPoint for a class project at school. To improve the efficiency, I need to learn and memorize many shortcuts on the Excel and for data visualization, I need to make the PowerPoint concise, clear and beautiful. Another very important lesson I learned throughout this internship is the necessity of communication skills, which I take as the most important skills in many career fields. Specifically in the financial industry, since the ability to master Excel can be cultivated through practice, the ability to communicate with other become the point to differentiate yourself from others. In a project, we do not only need to communicate with our teammates, but also our clients and many other agencies. The ability to convey the information as well as maintain a friendly relationship is crucial for the success of a project.

I already have taken many helpful lessons and experiences from this internship. And I am very thankful for everyone who has offered me help during this internship.

A Postcard From: Ankitha Kannad ’19

Name: Ankitha Kannad
Class Year: 2019
Major: Physics, Geology
Hometown: Bangalore, India

 Internship Placement: Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Job Title: Research Assistant
Location: Woods Hole, Mass.

What’s happening at your internship? We would love to hear what kind of work you are doing!

This summer, I am working with Dr. Gordon Zhang on the Polynyas in Coastal Antarctica (PICA) project. Polynyas are openings in the sea ice surrounding Antarctica that are formed by the action of strong winds from the land that push ice away from the coast and expose ocean water. Since they remain ice free throughout the year, polynyas are particularly productive regions for phytoplankton that like plants on land require sunlight to grow. Where there is abundant phytoplankton, other organisms follow. Hence, polynyas are also particularly important for the survival of many Antarctic species like the Emperor penguin.

There is a lot of variation in the ocean dynamics and the abundance of phytoplankton in different coastal polynyas around Antarctica. Dr. Zhang has some hypotheses to explain this variability and I spent the summer analyzing data of ocean conditions in several polynyas to see if my findings agree with them.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I have been interested in physics research that also has applications for another passion of mine, which is protecting natural environments and wildlife. I’m happy I could contribute in some part to understanding the Antarctic ecosystem better through the PICA project.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

A lot of great research happens at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. We often have several seminars and lectures every week by researchers studying everything from microbes living within the oceanic crust to origami microscopes. While my research itself has exposed me to a completely new field, it has also been exciting to learn about all the cool science happening today.

Living in a new city? What has that experience been like for you?

This summer has been full of new experiences for me, from going sailing for the first time to seeing bioluminescence in the beach closest to my home. Even though Woods Hole is a small town, there always seems to be something to explore and I’ve been lucky to have a great group of other summer students to do it with.

Map of Amundsen Sea

A Postcard From: Sukhandeep Kaur ’19

Name: Sukhandeep Kaur
Class Year: 2019
Major: Economics
Hometown: Faridkot, Punjab (India)

Internship Placement: Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), Philadelphia
Job Title: Sexual Assault Counselor/Crisis Intern

What’s happening at your internship?

WOAR has three different departments: Crisis and Counseling Office, Education Office and Community Outreach Office. I interned at the Crisis Office and primarily handled the Hotline calls. WOAR hotline is a 24-hour service and victim survivors call in for various reasons: Seeking phone counseling, scheduling intake appointments to meet with therapists, sharing their often difficult stories with a trained professional, looking for referrals and resources like medical exams, legal services or shelters and navigating traumatic (and sometimes suicidal) experiences. As an advocate, I make sure that I am present, listening, believing and supporting the callers with their needs. It is often challenging to hit the balance of being emotionally present and yet be effectively resourceful, and that is where the skillsets that I have acquired over time at my internship come in.

Can you talk about the skills you are learning and why they are important to you?

There are certainly numerous subtle skillsets that I have honed during my internship, which I have yet to discover for myself. The most evident ones, though, include effective communication, counseling, compassionate presence and holistic perspective. I have learnt to be present in the moment when I am taking a call, and not constantly thinking about what my response is going to be. This helps me get a much better understanding of the situation the caller is in, and inherently improves the quality of my response. I have also strengthened the ability to communicate my needs to my supervisors, and in fact that has played a role in strengthening our bonds. Also, I no longer hesitate asking a fellow intern or supervisor about information that I am unaware of but may benefit the caller. The need to be a good presenter has taken the form of the desire to be a resourceful counselor. Not to mention how drastically the internship has refined my counseling skills. I can handle the “tougher” calls in a calmer way now and can help the caller deescalate and be in a position to make best choices for themselves.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied for this internship because I see value in trauma informed counseling services to support victim/survivors navigate their experiences. I wanted to play my tiny part in this initiative and that is precisely the reason why I applied.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?

In my opinion, the biggest challenge for me was to keep myself sensitive to people’s stories. And quite frankly, it is sometimes hard to do that when you are also the one trying to find them resources. Emotional breakdown is not on the table for you! And often times, I saw my defense mechanism kick in when someone disclosed their experience. I guess, that is in certain sense being professional but at the same time I found it almost painful that I could not feel the gravity of each individual’s story.


A Postcard From: Esther Kim ’20

Name: Esther Kim
Class Year: 2020
Major: Psychology
Hometown: Gwangju, South Korea and Singapore
Internship Placement: Lewis Katz, Temple University School of Medicine; Shriners Pediatrics Hospital Research Center
Location: Philadelphia

How did you get connected?

I have a friend who used to work at the same lab a few years ago. He got me connected to the PI and they agreed to give a place for me to work for the summer.

What’s happening at your internship? What are you doing there?

There are many different projects going on the lab but their main focus of research is on gene therapy for spinal cord injury. It is a wet lab and there’s cool equipment I did not get to see in school labs. At this point (still the first half of the internship), I don’t hold a very important position in the lab, but I am helping here and there. A lot of the lab work consists of animal testing, so they require new lab workers a few weeks of training and lectures. There are lots of online courses and orientations to attend. It seemed more complicated than I thought. It was a good experience to witness that a lot of work and training is put into labs with animal testing.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I am a pre-med student, and eventually, I want to go to medical school. Not all doctors get heavily involved in medical research, but I wanted to discover if I liked it or not, and if I want to consider the research field as a possible career choice at all. After all, as a psychology student, getting involved in medical research is not easy. So when the opportunity came, I grabbed it. I think it’s important to try different things and find out what your interests are; you will never know until you try them!

Was this internship what you expected it to be?

Both yes and no. I knew that it was a wet lab so there were going to be the “typical” wet lab procedures that we do in school science labs. There are, however, differences. The lab is in a more professional setting and things are stricter and they take everything seriously and professionally. It made me nervous that if I messed up something, it would affect their research. I think there is a considerable responsibility to handling things in the lab even if it is a small thing because every work contributes to the research they are doing. I still have to do more training and learn, but eventually, I hope I get to handle more things. Also, I discovered that I do not hate research! I always had the idea that I would hate to be in the lab working alone all day, but it was rather therapeutic to concentrate and work on the samples.

A Postcard From: Junyan Duan ’19

Name: Junyan Duan
Class Year: 2019
Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Nanjing, China

Internship Placement: SMALL Undergraduate Research Project at Williams College
Job Title: Student Researcher
Location: Williamstown, Mass.

Williams College campus

Williams College campus

What is happening at your internship?

SMALL at Williams College is a 10-week program that provides research opportunities for undergraduates in math-related fields. Together with three other undergraduate students, I’m working on two mathematical ecology projects: One focuses on the spread and control of white nose syndrome in bats and the other focuses on ecosystem federalism.

Caused by a fungus called P. destructans, white nose syndrome (WNS) constantly wakes up hibernating bats, and this leads to drastic depletion in fat storage and then starvation-related death before spring. WNS was first detected in New York in 2006 and has spread out in the U.S. Because the rate of disease-induced mortality is so high, ecologists predict that some bat species will go extinct by 2023. As it’s not reasonable to do large-scale experiments on those bats, using mathematical models to simulate the situation is a better choice. We have updated the model and tested several potential control methods suggested by biologists and ecologists according to their data collected in labs.

For the ecosystem federalism project, we focus mainly on disease outbreaks. We developed SIR models to study disease dynamics and to see how different levels of government influence the outcome.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied for this internship because of my passion for both biology and mathematics. At the end of my sophomore year, I settled my mind to focus on applied math, especially mathematical biology, which is the overlap of the two fields. After going through a list of REU programs, I applied to several that offered research opportunities in mathematical biology (or mathematical ecology).

Living in a new city? What has that experience been like for you?

Williamstown is surrounded by mountains and the closest airport is in Albany, which is about 30 miles away. Williamstown is small but filled with fun activities in the summer. Williams College Museum of Art offers free lecture series and music events in July and those talks are always fun and inspiring. Clark Art Institute is an art museum within walking distance and SMALL students often go there on weekends. MASS MOCA is another art museum nearby and it’s a good place to go to as well. Williamstown Theater Festival started around the beginning of July, and this year Matthew Broderick came and performed in one of the comedies.

Williams College Shop

Williams College Shop

SMALL students also organize fun activities such as hiking, movie nights, ballroom dance and game nights.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

Besides what I do every day, such as researching, developing models and analyzing results, going to science lunch and talks as well as math department tea events and talks is my favorite part of this internship. The talks expand my knowledge not only math, but also in various fields such as material science and ornithology. Tea and lunch events allow me to communicate with professors and students and learn more about other students’ research.