The Last Reflection, Blog Post #5

Just this week, I finally wrapped up my summer internship at the Biomedical Research Center here at Michigan. To say the least, it was one of the most influential experiences of my life, in that it gave me the deepest look at the world of biomedical research. To think that earlier this past year, I had no idea what it meant to “genotype,” or what goes into immunofluorescence staining just goes to show how much an internship can open your eyes.

I am most grateful to my P.I. and the graduate students in the lab who everyday taught me something new about the techniques and biological concepts involved in outlining and then conducting certain experiments. The way my P.I., who also works as a graduate school professor of cell and developmental biology here at the University, would stay after hours to clear up any confusing concepts for me or teach me how to dissect mouse olfactory epithelium (for fun, even!), really showed me how generous this lab was. And for that I am truly so thankful. The whole experience, actually, went further than just increasing my passion for biomedical research—it made me realize that ultimately I would love to be able to teach the fundamental concepts of genetics and biochemistry to dedicated students one day.

My weekly sit-ins on practice prelims of the graduate students, thesis defenses, and lab meetings gave me a chance to see what the journey will be like to one day get to the place that the graduate students are in now. But I really am excited about it all! This school year, I will be continuing my research of the Hedgehog pathway of the mouse olfactory epithelium in the lab I am currently in. Furthermore, I may go on to take on a new project that is somehow related to neurogenesis. Through it all, it will be the literal techniques and fundamental concepts I have learned throughout this summer that will help guide me. And it is the generosity of the P.I. and graduate students that I have worked with that has without a doubt inspired me to believe in how far I can go as long as I am never afraid to ask questions, collaborate, and think beyond.

Reflection | Blog #5

At the beginning of this summer, I wasn’t sure of how my internship would affect my future goals and outlook on life. I had taken a few different computer science based courses last school year and found the subject really compelling. Previously, I had focused primarily on my neuroscience studies and held an internship last summer in a genetics lab, and this past summer, I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to engage myself in this new field. However, I did not want to let my interests in biology fall to the wayside, and I had hoped that the opportunity I had found with a lab on campus could allow me the chance to work closely with both fields. My internship provided me a number of challenges, most notably designing and implementing a sophisticated framework, as this was my first experience in software development. I had the exciting opportunity to present my work at a symposium for the first time and I could see what some other aspects of academia are like aside from strictly research and development. A crucial element of research is communicating work with others, something that can only be improved through practice. After this experience, I hope to continue working in the realm of software, particularly on problems where computer science can aid the biomedical community. Overall, I am very grateful for my experience this past summer. I look forward to exploring the role of software and computation in biological problems, and I hope to continue working in this fascinating field beyond my undergraduate career.

Mentorship | #4

My mentor this summer, Jie Zhu, was very helpful in helping me adjust to working in the lab and learning my responsibilities. She was always very approachable and patient when teaching me new aspects about the project, including critical background information that I had not yet learned from my college studies. She was also a crucial mentor in helping me solidify by career path choices. Jie is a medical doctor and just recently completed the health informatics program at Northwestern. I am interested in completing the health informatics master’s program at Michigan so it was essential to hear her point of view about the Northwestern program to see if it was something that would interest me in the future. She helped me figure out my strengths and interests and I am more confident in the path that I am choosing for my future career. She is also a valuable networking resource that I will not hesitate to contact in the future!

I have also developed relationships with my fellow interns, Colleen and Analiese. Colleen has interned at the lab for the previous two summers, so she is always giving us good feedback and teaching the new interns other lab upkeep tasks, such as dishwashing and autoclaving. We also are giving each other new ideas and feedback about our projects and what we can improve.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to develop a relationship with the lab’s primary investigator, Teresa Woodruff. She is very inspiring and dedicated to making sure that the interns were getting everything out of the internship and learning from other researchers in addition to their immediate mentors. She was interested in hearing about our career interests and being an important networking contact in the future.

Every week we had lab meetings to come together as a group and exchange feedback with each other. A lot of lab members also had lunch together to get to know different people as well as held informal demonstrations to teach new techniques.



Overcoming Obstacles | #3

Due to differing schedules and internet connection issues in El Salvador, communication has become less frequent. Therefore, everyone is responsible for creating their own content and forwarding it to our sponsor, Michelle. It is somewhat difficult to keep track of whether team members are making progress or if there are any immediate updates but we are doing our best. Additionally, we have decided as a group to forward the final draft of our video to Michelle and she will complete the Spanish subtitles for the students. I have started working on my two lesson plans, focusing on macronutrients and other vocabulary words relating to health. I am thankful for the CNN newscast template that is available in iMovie to help me create a fun, visual aesthetic for the video that will make it more appealing to watch rather than a boring slideshow of pictures. I am enjoying being able to work with iMovie and improve my video editing and production skill set.

Another obstacle of the internship is the general basis of it. Because it is a remote internship, I am not sure how successful our partnership between our organization and the Amun Shea school will be if we cannot continue to visit in person over the summer. Because of the travel restriction, we have developed this alternative model to keep our partnership thriving. I hope that this video project will positively impact the students and that the partnership will continue to make drastic differences in improving health for the Amun Shea community.

Formal to Informal | Blog #4

Throughout my 3 month internship, my favorite part was not learning about chemistry and working on interesting projects (although both were admirable), but was seeing and experiencing the change in relationships with my co-workers from formal to informal.

My boss is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, and the main co-workers I interacted with was a Post-Doctorate student with a PhD focus on radiochemistry. Super qualified individuals that I respect very much. But their names to me? Pete and Allen.

It was incredible to think that these men, who both deserve the titles Professor and Doctor in front of their names, preferred me to call them by their first names. It was as if I was an equal working alongside them, rather than working below them. This created a very welcoming atmosphere, one where we both worked, joked around, and forged strong relationships both professionally, and personally.


Final Day|#5

For my final blog post, I decided to post a picture of myself on my last day as an active intern for Patient and Family Centered Care. This opportunity has everything I could have wanted and more. On my last day, I was lucky enough to shadow both a nurse practitioner and a CRNA. I was also able to scrub in on a pediatric surgery. This opportunity was such a great way to end my internship because although I loved being in the OR, it validated my need/want for working in an inpatient unit with children. I love to interact with children and their parents, so I am excited for what my future holds. 14125685_886322954845759_271751792276827147_o

Nicaragua’s teachings on trusting myself! Blog #5

Final Topic – When you finish your internship, take a moment to reflect on the impact of the experience.

This summer has been one of the most adventurous summers of my life. My internship in Nicaragua has shaped not only my intellectual capabilities, but also me as a person. Even now two weeks after my arrival back in the Michigan, I can still catch the subtle differences in who I was  before the trip and who I am after my trip.

The night before my departure to Nicaragua, I was in somewhat of a panic mode.  I was less than 24 hours from traveling to a completely unknown country, and had spoken to my supervisor only once in a 15 minute skype call. It was my first time traveling completely alone, and although I had been to other “third-world” countries before, I still felt the fear of not knowing what to expect. As I walked outside the airport, I was approached by many very persistent individuals asking if I needed a taxi, some even attempting to speak to me in English. I wondered what about me gave off the fact that I was coming from an English speaking country, since after all I was born in Costa Rica, so I didn’t think that I looked that different from them. But I soon learned that even my way walking differentiated me, I kept walking and finally saw a man who I later learned was named Jose Santos holding a paper with my name. We went to his car, and were on our way to what I would soon call my home.

Something I immediately noticed was how little small talk there is when you initially meet someone in Nicaragua; which made me (a very bad small talker) a little uncomfortable at times. I would have to learn to speak first since it was the only way for strangers to talk to you. We rode through the city of Managua, and I was reminded of what driving outside of Michigan was like… in Managua in particularly…. Absolutely no rules! We stopped at a stoplight and I was shocked to see  the hanging feet of two small children riding in the back of a pickup truck, something I had never seen be accepted to publicly. When we finally arrived at my “apart-hotel” I was introduced to the owners and security guard, and after passing various locks I was finally in my room. But to my surprise, there was nothing there waiting for…. No food, no water, no toilet paper. I asked the owner where was the nearest supermarket, and he gave me somewhat of an idea, but I was also introduced to how different directions were given: no streets, no addresses, only reference points. I decided to put on my big girl shoes and headed to the supermarket, at ten o’clock at night  in a completely foreign place.

When I look back, I have no idea how I made it back to my apartment. I am just thankful that I did. Being taken to a completely unknown place without any direction from anyone is something I had never experienced and I am glad that I was able to do this my first night there, since it definitely put me in survival mode. From the very beginning I realized that in order for me to get to places and not have the next ten weeks be completely miserable, was to learn to get out. I was going to have to learn to talk to strangers, ask questions, and step out of that comfort zone that I was so used to being in. Most importantly, I needed to learn to trust myself, and  walk confidently, even when I felt in complete fear mode.

During my internship, I was able to work in a children’s hospital, where I had the opportunity of learning the ropes of the different areas of a very busy and underprivileged hospital. I was able to see the tasks of different health care workers, and observe the different conditions they are expected to work in. I learned that as a future health care provider,  I am no longer as worried about making as much money as possible, but instead more worried about the people I help. After this internship I am more motivated to helping those  that are underprivileged in some way. I learned that coming from a low-income minority background, I myself am able to identify with underprivileged individuals and am motivated to work for helping others.  In my time there, I became more interested in the patient’s well-being than the research itself,  which is something that has had a  major impact in my future career goals. Surprisingly, I  no longer see living outside of the US as something I would never do, and instead can picture myself living a few weeks of the year helping those that need it the most.

Reflection || Blog Post #5

Reflecting on my internship experience, I can say that it has definitely been one of the most influential and formative periods of my career thus far. My internship came at a poignant time in my college years, where I was making many high-stakes decisions about what I want to do post-undergrad. This internship helped me to answer those questions.

Things weren’t always easy with my position; it was a lot of hectic scheduling, difficult or unpredictable experiment times, research emergencies, and hundreds of additional hours of requests for help that I just couldn’t say no to. But these experiences really helped me to better understand the research process and navigate through the field that I hope to become apart of in a few years. With every new connection I made and every additional nightmarish hour I committed to working, I felt more sure that this, although grueling, is the path I want to take.

I think I gained many valuable skills during my internship. I learned how to interact professionally with principal investigators and postdoctoral researchers, and the caliber of work I’m expected to produce. I gained a very technical skill set that I hope to apply to future work, and an ability to talk in everyday terms about the highly complicated work that we are doing. Most importantly, I learned how to conceptualize my projects into the greater scheme of scientific advancement.


I’m incredibly happy with the way my internship progressed throughout the summer, and happy to be staying on as a research assistant during the school year!

Reflection | Blog #5

This summer working with Dr. Jones and the Gaudenzia team has been amazing. Not only was I able to gain real world experience in the mental health field, I was also able to gain a number of mentors and role models that I will keep in contact with throughout my career. Being a Gaudenzia intern has been a blessing that I will never forget, and I am honored to have been given the opportunity to work with them for another 3 years.

This summer has been a growing process. I have cemented my career path, which now makes it easier to map out my time at Michigan. I have gained a lot of insight into the field of psychiatry and I am happy to have had an internship experience, with the help of my LSA scholarship.

To the people at Gaudenzia and to Dr. Jones:

If you are reading this, I’d like to give my sincerest thanks to you.

-De’sia Blackwell

Nitarudi (I will return)|#5

As I wrap up my experience in Tanzania, all I can think about is how someday nitarudi (I will return). Working in Tanzania has left such a big impression on me and I know I will return to this beautiful country after I finish school. My internship abroad has taught me more than I could have imagined and I’m now confident that I will pursue public health education and community services in the future.

Working in a developing country exposed me to so many new scenes and situations. I have learned so much about East African culture and now have a better understanding of the daily lives of many Tanzanians. I have found that living and actively work in the same community is very rewarding. I’ve enjoyed helping educate elderly community members as well as young students about the importance of clean and safe water. I am also very thankful for the many homes I was invited into since I’ve learned so much from the many Tanzanians that I’ve conversed with. It has excited me to have been able to share ideas between cultures about clean water, education, global warming, and politics.

Working in Morogoro has been overwhelmingly enjoyable. It has been amazing working for an organization that is passionate about helping people gain access to clean water. For one of the first times I have felt excited about my work and have been happy to work with others that have shared the same visions.

I am happy to have helped where I could for the past six weeks that I have been in Morogoro, Tanzania. Although I believe it has been too short of a stay, I have been happy to see some projects come full circle. I can remember how just four days after arriving in Tanzania I was sent to Soloveya village to help conduct a water filter seminar. Visiting this rural village was a very memorable experience. Here I helped with a seminar for around 30 villagers who were interested in learning about the importance of clean water and receiving a water filter. After the seminar I visited the village’s water source, a small shallow pond, and here I gained a better understanding of the reality of the millions in our world who are without access to clean water. About 5 1/2 weeks later when I began finishing my internship, I heard about the upcoming water filter installation trips to Soloveya. Some of the same villagers I had worked with in Soloveya were now receiving water filters. This exciting news resonated through me. I found it wonderful to see some of what I call the fruits of education!

I have learned so much about public health education in a developing country through this experience. I am truly grateful for every individual I have met while abroad and for every individual that has helped make this opportunity real. Someday, nitarudi Tanzania tena.