This week I started my internship with the UM Scholars Program and I have a lot to share! In this blog, I'll explain exactly what this program is, how I learned about it and got in, and let you guys know how my first week went.
What is UM Scholars?
The UM Scholars program is a 10 week research program which selects students at the University of Maryland, College Park to connect with top faculty from the University of Maryland Medical School to work on a research project.
I heard about this program from the associate director of the Gemstone Honors Program and from someone who had done the program before, they both encouraged me to apply.
What was the application like?
This program is competitive in it's selection; about the top 10%-14% of applicants are accepted. The criteria is that you must attend UMD College Park and be either a sophomore or junior. You must be majoring in the STEM field and have a GPA of 3.2 but 3.5 or higher was preferred. The application included four short essays in which you had to describe your long-term goals, past research experience, future research interests, and a challenge you faced. Next, you had to provide a CV which included a personal statement, honors and awards, past research projects, skills, and leadership/extracurricular. Finally, you needed two recommenders and had two optional recommenders available.
If you have any further questions about the program or application, please message me.
Day 1: Orientation
The program started on May 28th with orientation. I barely slept the night before because I was just so anxious to get started, I kept telling myself not to be nervous because it was just orientation but of course I still had some butterflies in my stomach. I am commuting into Baltimore each day for the program, so I was at 5:30am to get ready for my first day. Here is what I decided to wear:
First impressions are super important, and I wanted an outfit that really showcased my personality. I paired these pink pants from Charlotte Rouse with this colorful blazer from T's Closet and added this white blouse underneath.
I got to the medical campus and was in awe, it is a really nice campus and everything is very close together. The medical campus is right across from the library and student center, and the lab I'm working at is right around the corner. It's amazing to be surrounded by medicine. I headed up to where orientation was being held and grabbed some breakfast that they provided for us and walked into the large conference room. The UM Scholars program is under the Office of Student Research of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (which includes the medical school, dental school, nursing school, pharmacy school and more), so orientation had some other programs other than the one I was in. Some were for undergraduates and some were for medical students.
Orientation included going over each program and then some mingling amongst each other. I was put at a table with some upcoming MS2 students (second year medical students) who shared some advice about their first year of medical school. It was good to hear about medical school from those currently experiencing it, I could tell they we're super excited about medicine but they did have some not as pretty truths to share, such as the amount of studying required, less time for family and friends, and lack of individuality.
Next, I got my OneCard, which gives me access to buildings on campus throughout the summer which made me feel super official! And I checked out the library which was absolutely beautiful. By the end of the first day I was feeling great! All my nerves had gone away, and I was just in awe of this experience I was blessed to be chosen to be apart of.
Day 2: Research Ethics
Day 2 included a few more hours of orientation. It was focused on learning about research ethics, which I think is always very important to discuss. Most of what was discussed was review because I had learned about these aspects of research as part of my Gemstone honors research program.
We were in one of the lecture halls of the school of medicine and we had four guest speakers. First we discussed research integrity, and some cases about basically scientist cheating. This included changing their raw data in order to get results or using photoshop to change results, all of this was super unethical. Actions like this can lead to loss of grants and loss of public trust.
Next we discussed the IRB, which is the institutional review board. The IRB is in charge of reviewing research projects which use human subjects. Every institution has its own IRB. We also heard from IACUC which is similar to IRB but is for animal subjects. Finally, we discussed authorship. For example, if our research was be to published who is counted as an author.
Next, we broke up into small group discussions they called "Pods" and read over some case studies and discussed our opinions. I always enjoy these conversations because what is ethical and what is not ethical can shift slightly from person to person. Once we finished up the conversations, this ended our orientation and I headed home to enjoy a little bit more summer before starting my 40 hour work weeks in the lab.
Day 3: First Day in the Malaria Research Group
Now that orientation was over, it was time to get to work. I arrived at my lab at 9am ready to start my first day! My mentor, Dr. Travassos showed me around the lab which is so cool! My lab is the malaria research group of the Global Health and Vaccine Development Department. I was introduced to everyone, and was shown the various parts of the lab from the desk I would be working at, to the areas where they conducted procedures such as PCR, Gel Electrophoresis, and more, and also their Challenge Suite where they keep mosquitos which they use to give volunteers malaria as part of clinical trials (don't worry they get treated), and I also saw where they kept the malaria parasite and got to look at the infected red blood cells under the microscope. It was all so amazing.
Here is the desk where I will be working at. This summer I will be introduced to a side of research I haven't done before which is data analysis. This summer I will be examining placental malaria, which is a form of malaria which occurs in pregnant women. Specifically I will be looking at antibody responses to some proteins which we believe to be important in allowing the malaria parasite to target the placenta. Through this research project, I will be learning statistics and how to analyze data to answer the research questions I have developed.
After meeting everyone in the lab, I got settled in at my desk and started working on some training modules that I needed to complete in order to start my research. Then I went to lunch with a fellow UMD undergraduate who was working in the lab this summer. Once I returned, my research mentor allowed me to join him for rounds in the hospital which was my first ever shadowing experience!
"Shadowing" is required by medical schools and it involves following a doctor and observing what it is like to be a physician. While I have volunteered in hospitals in the past, I haven't had any shadowing experiences yet so I was very eager to start! My mentor is a Pediatric Infectious Specialist, this is a speciality of pediatrics which focuses on infectious diseases such as those causes by bacteria, fungi, parasites, or other infections. I was very interested to see what kind of patients and cases he saw.
I followed him into the hospital and we began talking while we walked quickly to our first case, I brought a small notebook and pen and took notes. We had both outpatient and inpatients to see. Before we saw the patient, he explained the case to me, showing me the various test, charts, and vitals and explaining what the diagnosis and treatment was. It was so amazing to feel as though I was part of the cases versus just watching silently, which is what I thought shadowing would be like.
Once we went to see the patient, I put on any necessary protective wear such as gowns, gloves, and masks and introduced myself to the patients and families. Since the medical center is a teaching hospital, it is common to have medical students, residents, and even undergraduates like me, following the doctors around and so families seemed very used to it and comfortable with me being there. My mentor let me listen to their heart beats through the stethoscope which was my first time ever doing so, as you can imagine I was very excited. In just one afternoon of shadowing, I had already learned so much about how medicine was conducted and we came across some really interesting cases!
Once I headed back into lab, it was almost the end of the work day. I couldn't believe how amazing my first day was and how much I had learned. I finished up some work on my computer, logged out, and headed out at 5pm to head back home.
When shadowing in the hospital it is important to dress professionally. I wore my black dress pants with this nice blue blouse tucked in and had a slick natural hair style. This outfit is from T's Closet.
Day 4: Conference and More Shadowing
Day four of my experience was another great day. What is funny is that from 9-5 I didn't actually get much work done on this day. My lab was having a conference in which they were presenting their research to a special guest doctor from Malawi. I joined everyone in the conference room and spent the morning listening to presentations which explained the various projects that make up the Malaria Research Group. It was actually really awesome that this occurred during my first week because it gave me an introduction to the lab and all the staff and researchers within the lab.
The Malaria Research Group has various focuses/units, some projects looked at genomics which is the mapping of genes and she explained how she could track variations of the malaria parasite and see how the disease is migrating across the country. Other projects focused on developing and testing malaria vaccines, which is how the challenge suite where they host mosquitos comes into play. They also have projects examining the co-infections between malaria and HIV and schistosomiasis.
The unit my project is in is the Immunoepidemiology and Pathogenesis Unit, which study immune responses.
Once the presentations were done, we all went out to enjoy lunch which was provided. Everyone grabbed a plate and we sat together just chatting. Everyone was very friendly. I mostly chatted with a MD/PhD student and a rising MS2 student who was also new to the lab. They gave me some more advice about medical school and were just really great to chat with. I felt really welcomed by everyone in the lab.
I also learned that many people in the lab, including my mentor, speak French or at least some French so I can practice my language skills this summer as well.
Once lunch was over, I joined my mentor in the hospital again for another afternoon of shadowing. We got to see a patient who I had seen the afternoon prior and see her condition improve which made me really happy. This afternoon, I saw that not every case had clear answers, especially with infectious diseases in a developed country like the United States a question often asked is how exactly they got the infection. In some cases, the parents said the child had done nothing out of the ordinary.
Something I noticed my mentor do was ask a lot of questions in order to narrow down possibilities, for example they would make a list of possible bacteria or diseases and work their way through them and deciding which would be possible according to the symptoms and the patient and this would help them suggest which tests to do and which antibiotics to put the patient on. I liked seeing the ways in which medicine was kind of like a puzzle. It's like you have all this information you've learn through years of training and now you have to apply it to the case and patient in front of you. I really enjoyed going through the cases with them and am excited to do more shadowing throughout the summer.
Once I was done in the hospital it was time to head home and enjoy the weekend. I am looking forward to what next week will bring!
Overall First Impression of UM Scholars and UMSOM
As a pre-med student, it's like I'm working so hard to go into medicine but I hadn't seen what this would really be like, but now every day I am on this campus surrounded by doctors walking by in their white coats, and students walking around with their medical books, and patients coming in for care, and seeing up close and personal what medicine is really about! What I really love about this environment is how open all the doctors are about teaching and mentoring. It is so amazing to me that they take time out of their very busy schedules to do this and it means a lot.
I know that I am going to learn so much this summer, from learning more about medicine and research, to just learning how to care for others, how to network, how to work in a professional environment, how to be ok with asking questions, and more. I am very excited to take you all on their journey with me and sharing as much as possible while putting the privacy of patients, research, and lab as a first priority, always.
Thanks for reading,