Name: Mahin Hossain
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research/ Internship
Where: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
Program: NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP)
My STEP Signature project revolved around my summer internship experience at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland as an Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) Scholar. At the NIH, I was trained in the lab of Dr. Daniel Reich under the mentorship of Nathanael Lee, MD/PhD candidate at Georgetown University. Dr. Reich’s lab is known as the Translational Neuroradiology Section (TNS) and focuses on understanding the mechanism of inflammatory demyelination in Multiple Sclerosis patients by combining radiology, basic wet lab research, and an animal model of MS known as Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis. The main goal of my summer experience was not only to gain research experience in the fields of neuroimaging, neuroradiology, and neuropathology, but also to gain a better understanding of career goals and of the myriad of career options that are available to me.
Before I left for my internship, I was very uncertain about my future career goals. While I was certain about pursuing the field of medicine, and had been taking active steps to fulfill my pre-med requirements, I enjoyed research a lot more than I had originally anticipated. Yet, I wasn’t sure of whether or not I wanted to make research a part of my future career as well or render it a mere experience of my undergraduate schooling. I was also unaware of the options that were available for me to combine both medicine and research. While I had heard about dual admission Md/PhD programs in the past, the time commitment of obtaining the PhD deterred me from pursuing such. I had also been convinced for a long time that obtaining an MD/PhD would force me into a career as a physician-scientist where I’d be primarily responsible for the research aspect and thus have limited time for patient/ clinical interaction. My time at the NIH, however, showed me that I myself am responsible for the direction of my career and that even if I obtain an MD/PhD, I do not have to pursue primarily research. Not only would pursuing an MD/PhD degree make me more competitive for research based residency programs, it would also provide me with the ability to address medical/ healthcare issues from an analytical and scientific standpoint.
I also became more confident in my ability to not only describe my research, but answer questions with confidence. My mentor coached me each and every day by providing me with research journal articles to read and then quizzing my on my ability to describe the project’s methods, discussion, and results. I was also challenged by presenting some of these articles in front of the whole lab and among other peers.
There were several events, interactions, and relationships during my project that led to my transformation into a more confident scientist. First of all, the NIH as a whole provided several workshops and events that were conducive to both my personal and professional growth. One such activity was a journal club. All summer interns were assigned to a journal club regarding a disease, or field of biomedical science, and every week, we read a published journal article within that field. Groups of students would take turns to present their article of choice each week. This activity allowed me to improve not only my reading comprehension, but also my ability to present my own research by allowing me to practice how to understand the purpose behind studies and how the purposes were accomplished. Second, the NIH provided additional workshops on how to present a poster, how to create a dynamic poster presentation, and how to keep a lab notebook. I had never presented my research to anyone before, and had never made a poster. With this summer experience as well as the guidance of my mentor, I learned how to display my summer research effectively as well as how to communicate my results concisely. These skills are critical for me especially in my career because I will be able to utilize them in my undergraduate career at Ohio State if I present at the Denman or fall/ spring research forums.
Second, the coolest thing I got to do was shadow and attend Neurology Consults and clinical care consults. At these consults, all of the doctors, students, and researchers get together to discuss the latest patient cases, detailing past and current medical history, diagnoses, possible diagnoses, and plans of action. This was a rare experience because not only was I allowed to listen in to how doctors make such decisions, but I also got to witness and observe MRI image analysis and understand how doctors come up with diagnoses. Many of these patients were also patients in the clinical trials of our lab, so to see how the researchers and doctors choose test subjects was a rare and unique opportunity.
Another aspect of my summer experience that led to my transformation was the ability to make connections and relationships with experienced scientists at the NIH. Firstly, the UGSP program had weekly “Discussion with a Scientist” events where we got to meet a researcher or principal investigator at the NIH and not only discuss their research, but also their academic background and how they got to where they are. Several of the doctors were met were UGSP alumni so it was inspiring to see how, despite coming from their disadvantaged background, they were able to utilize the supplies UGSP provided them to build a successful career for themselves. It was inspiring discussing what got people interested in studying what they were studying, or passionate about studying medicine, or how they chose between MD, PhD, and MD/PhD programs. This dialogue was extremely conducive to my development as a researcher but also my own understanding of what I want in life and how I can achieve my goals.
Lastly, the greatest aspect of my experience was that I was able to attend guest lectures and lecture series from scientists around the world who came to talk at NIH. The collest part however was that these lectures varied in topic, so I gained experience not only in interacting with world-renowned doctors and researchers, but also the ability to learn about fields of which I had no previous exposure to. The opportunities I had here at the NIH are not readily available here at OSU and the fact that I got to experience these things this summer makes me more passionate about going back in the future.
In the end, I learned the importance of never giving up and staying determined in my accomplishing my goals. Many times, I lose motivation to continue my hard work or struggle in my classes, but it is important to never give up and understand that failures are only the stepping stone to future success. My summer research mentor challenged me a lot, to the point that sometimes I severely doubted my own potential. However, I learned so much from the experience and gained the confidence to stand with my answers and responses. I learned how to answer questions confidently, without fear of being incorrect. Not knowing something isn’t inherently bad, but it is critical to recognize when you don’t know something so that you can ask for help. I greatly appreciated how the program didn’t only focus on the research experience, but provided the opportunity for summer interns to develop relationships with potential future bosses and to learn about topics they have no prior knowledge of. The ability to work at the largest center for biomedical research in the entire world is something that I will never take for granted. This internship reaffirmed by passion for pursuing an MD/PhD to become a physician scientist. It reminded me that my goal is to not only provide medical care, but to understand the mechanisms that underlie human disease so that we can better target treatments and interventions for those who are suffering. I am not only a better scientist now, but a better student, thinker, and innovator.