This past summer the NIAMS Career Development and Outreach Branch (CDOB) welcomed 15 students from across the country and Puerto Rico to participate in the inaugural NIAMS Intramural Virtual Training Research Opportunities (InVTRO) program. The NIAMS has a long history of hosting a summer research experience. It was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it returned in 2021 as a virtual program, in which students participated from their homes.
The CDOB, like other branches and offices in the NIAMS Intramural Research Program (IRP), transitioned its entire training and professional development portfolio to a virtual space, allowing the Institute to continue its commitment of offering innovative and highly effective professional career development and training in the biomedical sciences.
InVTRO provided a unique, interactive platform that included live sessions with NIAMS staff and scientists from different laboratories, virtual IRP facility tours, live video conferences and laboratory meetings, interactive interviews with current trainees and faculty, participation in Grand Rounds and “mock” patient visits, and journal clubs. The program also offered interactive courses in bioinformatics and responsible conduct in research, daily Q&A sessions about the NIAMS IRP research portfolio, and other learning and networking opportunities. The students were also exposed to the functions of different laboratories through weekly rotations.
The program was led by Robert Walker, Ph.D., Chief of the CDOB, and facilitated by Elizabeth Aliberti and Martyn Green. The CDOB plans to continue developing and expanding the InVTRO program in the future.
Below are testimonials from the first cohort of InVTRO program trainees.
Xavier University, Louisiana
Biochemistry (2nd Year)
My name is Olutoye Jegede, and I have been pleased to serve as a summer intern in this program. My experience with NIAMS consisted of lab meetings, clinical rounds, journal clubs, and much more. I was also gifted the opportunity to network with well-respected individuals in the field of biomedical research. I am very grateful for the work of Dr. Robert Walker and the rest of the team that guided us scholars in the summer internship. They were all extremely welcoming and displayed wonderful hospitality to all the scholars. Thanks to NIAMS, I realized that I could promote health policy and make an impact in the field of research on a global scale. Also, I have tremendously improved in presenting my work and asking questions to learn more effectively. Using the knowledge gained from this experience, I will serve and fully commit myself to a future career in medicine.
Fayetteville State University, North Carolina
Biochemistry (3rd Year)
I was honored with the opportunity to be an NIH Summer Intern in the NIAMS. I was able to meet several researchers doing amazing things in their fields and learn about their research. Hearing their life stories and how they chose to pursue their careers and research topics was very inspiring for me. With this internship, I also gained scientific paper comprehension, networking, and resiliency skills. I was able to participate in a scientific journal club and attend several workshops hosted by the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE). All the interns in my cohort were very intelligent and kind, and the staff were very helpful and supportive. This was an incredible experience that I will always remember, and I will use the skills I have learned in my future research career.
University of Puerto Rico, Ponce Campus
Biology (4th Year)
My name is Fabiola Rodriguez-Armstrong, a biology undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce. I aspire to obtain an M.D./Ph.D., and my current academic goals include obtaining basic science research experience and taking advantage of everything this program offered.
University of Texas, Austin
Biochemistry (4th Year)
My summer internship at the NIAMS broadened my horizon of possibilities in the worlds of biomedical research and medicine. This opportunity allowed me to listen in and explore various areas of biomedical research at the NIH. Through attending different lab meetings, lecture series, journal clubs, and Grand Rounds with NIAMS principal investigators (PIs), as well as PIs from other institutes, I explored fascinating research topics and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for how scientific investigation works. This experience allowed me to see how scientists think critically, troubleshoot problems, and explain their research in a concise and clear way. While I did not have a virtual project, NIH’s robust curriculum offered by the OITE undoubtedly enhanced my professional and personal growth. I learned Python programming language, presented a paper in a journal club, and learned how to become a resilient scientist through a series of talks. I was also introduced to diverse and multidisciplinary networking opportunities with many leading scientists. The skills and development I gained throughout the summer honed my interest in biomedical research and medicine, which I can apply to serve people in the future. I want to thank Dr. Robert Walker, Martyn Green, Elizabeth Aliberti, and the staff at the NIH and NIAMS. My experience would not have been possible if it were not for their attentiveness and flexibility. I realized how amazing and supportive the NIH is, with the boundless possibilities of what humans can do to improve science and medicine. I am very grateful to the NIH and NIAMS for this amazing opportunity.
Connecticut College, Connecticut
Biology (2nd Year)
Spending the summer as a NIAMS intern was a profitable experience, as it gave me the opportunity to expand my social network and taught me new research skills. Although this was my first time entering the program, it was both a welcoming and inspiring environment, thanks to Dr. Robert Walker, Elizabeth Aliberti, and Martyn Green. In addition to this, I was also able to attend clinic meetings, summer boot camps, journal clubs, and networking lunches. Ultimately, through this program I learned how to better analyze and communicate research, as well as improve my programming skills. This was an invaluable research experience, and I am extremely thankful to the NIH and NIAMS community for this opportunity!
University of California, Los Angeles
Biology (1st Year)
This summer, I had the honor of participating in the NIAMS InVTRO Program, which vested me with exclusive insight into the day-to-day activities of NIAMS laboratories. Throughout the summer, I attended a multitude of lab meetings, Grand Rounds, and scientific retreats, where investigators from all sorts of backgrounds passionately spoke about their work. Furthermore, I had many opportunities to expand my professional development by participating in workshops, journal clubs, networking events, and various boot camps. Despite setbacks induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, I found the experience to be very insightful in establishing a trajectory for my academic career. I am extremely thankful for everything that NIAMS has done for me this summer!
Texas Tech University
Biology (4th Year)
This summer I had the privilege of meeting an incredibly passionate and fun group of individuals. I not only had opportunities to directly speak to up-and-coming NIH and NIAMS investigators, and witness their incredible collaboration during journal club meetings, but I also won insight into the type of impact I hope to achieve in the field of medicine. I am reinvigorated to return to my undergraduate studies with a clearer vision of the type of physician-scientist I hope to become. A big thank you to Dr. Robert Walker, Elizabeth Aliberti, and Martyn Green for leading the InVTRO team and giving us all a phenomenal experience!
University of Texas, San Antonio
Biology (4th Year)
This summer internship had more research than I thought possible. The research I performed was on school programs, how well the fit would be, as well as whether a Ph.D. education is right for me. Other research came in the form of biomarker journaling, therapeutics boot camp and mental health sessions. The need and benefits of biomarkers, the importance of having effective models for any given research and learning more about myself will help me throughout my entire career. The opportunity to be part of the NIH retreat allowed me to hear from many fields, which will help inform my next steps. Dr. Robert Walker, Elizabeth Aliberti and Martyn Green were invaluable in helping me get past “impostor syndrome” and shoot for the stars. They were voices of encouragement, which can be lost in the pursuit of science. They enabled me to make professional contacts that could help for years to come. Coming from a school with a relatively new research standing, to hearing from the scientist who briefed Congress on the novel coronavirus was much more than this budding scientist could have dreamed. As a person without a strict discipline, the ability to sit in on multiple lab meetings allowed me to expand my knowledge as well as interests. I am eternally grateful for this amazing experience.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Biology (4th Year)
After being an NIH intern during the summer of 2018, I had immediate intentions on returning. Although this summer was a bit different with it being a virtual experience, it did not change my admiration for the NIH community and the enriching culture of science it provides to its summer interns, even with the COVID-19 restrictions. I was honored with the privilege of being invited to numerous lab meetings and seminars where I was introduced to a wide span of ongoing and innovative research led by brilliant PIs in the field. I was also given resources to enhance my understanding of drug addiction and the human mind by attending a journal club and bootcamp course. My summer would not have been anywhere near as productive—or even possible—if not for my lovely mentors who were phenomenal at structuring the InVTRO program in a way that ensured there was never a dull moment. Both experiences at the NIH have been equally rewarding and have served as steppingstones in my career goal towards pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of genetics.
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Biology (3rd Year)
I had an enlightening and wonderful experience as a NIAMS InVTRO intern throughout this summer. I had the opportunity to network with remarkable investigators from NIAMS who shared both their research and advice with us. This allowed me to learn more about topics I was already interested in studying, as well as discover new areas I would like to explore. Likewise, I received personalized mentoring and the flexibility to tailor the experience to my needs. After completing my undergraduate degree, I wish to pursue a Ph.D., and I am currently considering applying to the NIH post-bac program next year to return to the NIH.
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Biology (3rd Year)
My summer experience at NIAMS exceeded my expectations and helped further my passion for science. I am extremely grateful for the amazing scientists I have connected with through lab meetings and journal clubs. Although this summer was online, I was still able to network with many phenomenal people in the scientific field. I particularly enjoyed the weekly seminars about health disparities and discussing proper research conduct. This internship aided my professional development by providing me with the resources I need to succeed. I expanded my skills by completing the Python programming language boot camp. I enjoyed my experience so much that I plan to apply to the post-bac research program. I want to personally thank everyone at NIAMS and the entire NIH for a transformative summer.
Florida International University
Biochemistry (4th Year)
My virtual summer at NIAMS was a transformational experience enriching my career trajectory. Aligned with my interest, I obtained training on the foundations of clinical research through an intensive boot camp program. Additionally, I was able to deepen my knowledge of the neurological basis of addiction. Through networking with outstanding NIH scientists over the summer, I learned to remain curious and explore disease areas beyond my previous experiences. In particular, a lecture by Dr. Francis Collins reminded me to keep an open mind about my career path while striving for scientific breakthroughs. I am grateful that I could work on my skills at one of the leading research institutions in the world, despite the challenging circumstances we face as a country. Therefore, I want to thank Dr. Robert Walker and Martyn Green for supporting us interns over the summer. I’ve graduated with a B.Sc. in Biochemistry and will next obtain my M.Sc. in Neuroscience from the University of Oxford, before starting medical school at Weill Cornell Medicine. I value this summer experience deeply and hope to rejoin the NIH in person to perform clinical research and apply my newly gained skills towards our society's advancement.
Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program (1st Year)
My name is Dania, and I did my research project in Dr. Sarfaraz Hasni's lab, exploring fertility preservation in premenopausal female lupus patients. I had the wonderful opportunity to design the project, write the Institutional Review Board proposal, present it to a team of doctors for feedback, collaborate on other manuscripts, and collect data. I also participated in weekly journal clubs on antibiotic resistance and a week-long bootcamp on the therapeutic development process. Even though the internship was virtual, there were weekly check-ins and several opportunities to engage with my peers and other labs. The team at NIAMS was incredibly supportive throughout the entire summer and encouraging of everyone's future goals!
Adelle (Eidel) Perkelvald
Lander College of Arts and Sciences, New York
Biology (2nd Year)
Hi! My name is Adelle Perkelvald and I was fortunate enough to be an intern this summer. Being a part of the InVTRO program, run by Dr. Robert Walker, offered me the opportunity to develop my skills and interests in science. It also provided me with a community of talented scientists from whom I have learned so much. I was also an intern in the RNA Molecular Biology lab, analyzing the census of RNA binding proteins—alongside principal investigator Dr. Markus Hafner. This past summer was pivotal in furthering my career and I am so grateful that NIAMS transformed the challenges of a virtual interface into an amazing learning experience. Thank you so much for all your help and support this summer!
George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Medical School (1st year)
My summer at NIAMS was one of the most impactful and enjoyable research experiences in my undergraduate career. Despite all the trials and tribulations COVID-19 posed this year, NIAMS was able to provide a virtual internship comprised of a diverse range of opportunities that allowed me to further develop analytical skills and taught me how to think critically in a translational research environment. I was given countless opportunities to learn how to effectively communicate my research to others through journal clubs and poster presentations. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to work with my mentors Drs. Isaac Brownell, Lingling Miao, Khalid Garman, and Natasha Hill, who guided me through my research project and continuously helped me learn and develop new skills. I had the opportunity to investigate the parallels between Merkel cell development and Merkel cell carcinoma, and to identify potential novel therapeutic targets for Merkel cell carcinoma. Seeing firsthand how scientific discoveries can transform into novel treatments in the clinic sparked a growing interest of mine in combining research with my future clinical endeavors. As I go on to medical school next year, I am certain that the things I learned at NIAMS will continue to benefit me in my future research endeavors, both in medical school and as a physician.