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Why OHIO students should think about summer research internships now

From staff reports | Nov 20, 2014
Astrophysics major Samantha Thrush presents at the Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Expo. She participated in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program during summer 2014.
Astrophysics major Samantha Thrush presents at the Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Expo. She participated in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program during summer 2014. Photo credit: Jean Andrews, Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Chemistry student Ethan Cottrill helped physicians examine the development of babies in the Division of Newborn Medicine in Boston Children's Hospital. In Minneapolis, physics major Samantha Thrush studied ripples in the space-time continuum. Donald Lippi explored new techniques in weather forecasting in Maryland, an experience that opened the door to graduate school.  

What do these Ohio University undergraduates have in common? They all participated in summer research internships.

Although summer 2015 may seem like a distant entry on the calendar, it's not too early for Ohio University students to start making plans now for learning experiences during the warmer months.

Internship programs for disciplines ranging from journalism to biological sciences already are accepting applications from college students seeking hands-on learning opportunities that could help them prepare for graduate school and careers

How do students find out about these internships and apply? The Office of the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity is sponsoring two workshops Dec. 2 and 3 to guide students through the process.

Students who haven't thought about participating in research previously should consider the benefits, said Roxanne Malé-Brune, director of grants and special projects for the research division.

"Engagement in research and creative activity allows students to expand their expertise beyond the classroom and explore their prospective fields while developing the skills they will need to be competitive in today's market. But beyond this, it encourages students to discover and follow their passions," she said.

Research internships allow students to build on expertise learned in the classroom, Malé-Brune noted. Students can choose from U.S. and international opportunities and placements with academic, government, non-profit and industry partners. Many internships are paid, so students can earn money towards their education and cost of living while gaining important experience.

For some students, a summer research experience puts them on an unexpected path. Cottrill, for example, was an Honors Tutorial College chemistry major who did a senior thesis on optical storage devices. The internship with the Harvard Program in Neonatology at Boston Children's Hospital allowed him to expand his analytical skills to using MRI images to study fetal development. He also had the opportunity to observe C-section procedures and nursery examinations of newborns.

"I had the great fortune of shadowing neonatologists and pediatricians in a broad range of practice, finding my time in the delivery room and NICU to be the most exciting and enriching," Cottrill said. "I remember feeling overwhelmed with privilege and joy in seeing new life brought into the world. I knew then that a career in pediatric medicine as a research physician was my destiny."

Cottrill, who is currently participating in the Teach for America program, plans to attend medical school next fall.

Donald Lippi also learned about the transformative impact of student research. The meteorology/geography major first participated in climate studies as a sophomore. This made him eligible to apply for the prestigious Hollings Scholarship, which allows undergraduate students to work with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) during the summer.  

Lippi landed the scholarship and participated in weather forecasting research at the Environmental Modeling Center on the University of Maryland's College Park campus. At the end of the summer, he presented his findings to an audience that included his future graduate school advisor. The experience not only solidified his passion for his field and for research, but paved the way to a fully funded graduate assistantship at the University of Maryland.

"My advice: Get involved in research, present your research, and begin building your network," he said. "It's not what you know, it's who knows you."

Like Lippi, astrophysics major Samantha Thrush was able to travel to a world-class scientific facility across the country to participate in a summer internship. With funding from a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) award, she studied simulated and real gravitational wave data at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Minneapolis.

Gravitational waves, which are predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, are ripples in space-time caused by the motion of massive objects, Thrush explains. They have never been observed, but researchers at the observatory are working to detect and measure their characteristics. This could help scientists understand neutron stars and black holes, Thrush says.

"I really enjoyed the UMN campus, making new friends, as well as my opportunity to do thesis research in such a large and largely open field," says Thrush, a senior in the Honors Tutorial College. "I would definitely encourage undergrads in the sciences to find out all you can about REU summer positions in the areas they're passionate about—to learn by experience!"

The summer internships workshops will be held from 6 to 7 p.m., Tues., Dec. 2 in 332 Clippinger (pizza provided) and from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Wed., Dec. 3 in Baker 239 (repeat session).

RSVP is strongly encouraged to male-bru@ohio.edu.

More information about summer research fellowships can be found at: http://www.ohio.edu/fellowships/.


-Compiled by Office of Vice President for Research and Creative Activity and Department of Physics and Astronomy.