Here at Janelia, we’re excited to have 19 fantastic undergraduate scholars working in our labs this summer. Like many young scientists around the country, the members of this group have an opportunity to use their internship to do cutting edge research, make connections, and learn skills that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re here at Janelia or spending your summer at another lab, here are some tips for making the most of your internship.
Get to know your peers
Your fellow undergraduates represent an incredible network that will enrich your scientific career. Learn from their experiences and different scientific perspectives. Share your lab successes, frustrations, and the unexpected results; the latter often generate new scientific questions. Be a peer mentor and be receptive to suggestions by your colleagues. You will continue to interact professionally and personally with this group for years to come.
Meet your colleagues
Wherever you’re working, remember that there is science outside your lab. Learn about the research happening across the institution by making an effort to meet graduate students, postdocs, lab heads, managers, and administrators. Sit at lunch tables with people you don't know and introduce yourself, or email group leaders to schedule time to have coffee and learn more about their research. Attend seminars and journal clubs. One of my favorite questions to ask is how people's career paths brought them to Janelia—you may be surprised at how their answers help you think about your own developing career.
Own your project
Your mentor and colleagues will notice and appreciate if you come to work each day ready to work. Read the literature for your project. Make sure you understand how your system works—the reagents, the critical controls, the analysis software, the caveats, the tricks, and the limitations. Ask plenty of questions, and don't be afraid to do simple experiments to master a technique or tool, optimize it, or even find new utility for it. Taking ownership of a project is a skill you will use far beyond your internship.
Remember to take some time out
Hard work is a big part of science, but taking time away from the lab can give you a fresh perspective. Here at Janelia, students can attend events at Bob's, participate in sports, go running on Selden Island, or go into DC to explore the city. Find something that you enjoy so that you can balance your social and scientific lives. In my own career, I have found that my best work often comes after taking time to explore the world around me on a run or through nature photography.