Preuss School interns dive deep into research

| Written by Jessica Moore
Eight high school interns with their certificates

Not many high schoolers get to do cancer research, but that’s exactly the opportunity extended by Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) to a small group of rising seniors from The Preuss School at UC San Diego each summer. In contrast to the two-week program for rising juniors, the senior intern program lets students spend six weeks in the lab full-time, during which they complete experiments using the same techniques that the graduate students who train them use in their projects. 

“I got so much more out of this than I expected,” said Victor Ruiz. “We didn’t just do experiments, we understood the scientific goals. The instructors explained the rationale, and how the results would fit into their overall project.”

Their comprehension was evident in the outstanding presentations the students gave at the end of the program—they were well prepared to answer their classmates’ questions.

Interns gained more than technical knowledge—they came away with a new appreciation of the many steps—sometimes ‘baby steps’—needed to advance cancer research and develop better therapies.

“I used to think that cancer was one disease, and that a cure was just around the corner,” said Gabriel Ramos. “Now I know that it’s really complicated. There are thousands of types of cancer, and tumors adapt to resist treatment.”

Some students were inspired to consider research careers. “I had been leaning toward engineering, but now I see the appeal of research—you get to ask questions and discover things no one knew before,” said Luis Vidal. “Also, it was really amazing when we transfected cells with a gene for fluorescent protein—I made cancer glow!”

Others saw how expertise in biology could benefit their planned careers. “I want to work in the medical field,” said Maricruz Gonzalez. “I look forward to being able to help patients understand their options and what their diagnosis means.”

And the interns weren’t the only ones who benefited—the young researchers in SBP’s Ph.D. program who taught and supervised them grew as well.

“It’s so rewarding to watch the students’ perspective change,” said Monica Gonzalez Ramirez, lead instructor in the program and a graduate student in the laboratory of Guy Salvesen, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School. “Being a mentor usually happens later in your career—I feel lucky that I get the chance to do it early on.”

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