I had spent the first two summers of my undergraduate career conducting research at the University of Toronto, my home university. By the time December of my third year rolled around, I knew that I wanted to experience science in another country. As a result, I applied to several abroad summer research programs, one of them being the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) Internship Program (HIP). Applying to HIP is undeniably one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
Having been a stem cell advocate for three years now, I, eager to explore stem cell research first hand, accepted the HIP offer.
The internship consisted of a full-time lab placement complemented by weekly stem cell companion courses. As a premed student interested in hematology, I was lucky to have been matched to a hematology lab led by Dr. Alan Cantor at Boston Children’s Hospital – the top American pediatric hospital. Under Dr. Cantor’s supervision, I worked on identifying the role of a particular gene in the blood disorder familial platelet disorder with predisposition to acute myeloid leukemia. At the lab, I was excited to have the opportunity to use stem cells to answer important biological questions about a hematological disorder. The thrill of contributing to research with direct implications that could, one day, save or improve lives added a tangible drive to my simple scientific curiosity, making research all the more meaningful.
Aside from the laboratory placement, the weekly stem cell companion course became the highlight of my weeks at Harvard. Every Friday morning, all 36 interns would convene at the Harvard campus to hear about the research and career path of stem cell scientists. Through these lectures, I gained a new appreciation for the tenacity required in a scientific career, and became more enthusiastic for a career as a physician-scientist. Motivated by these lectures, I took advantage of the time I had at Boston to meet with inspirational individuals in order to gain insight into their paths and hear their advice. Through these meetings, I gained perspective on various aspects of a scientific career, and found that the most important factor about advice is to get a lot of it while staying true to your own goal, because people often have contrasting points of view about the same topic.
One of the benefits of being in Boston was the wealth of opportunities available from Harvard, MIT, and surrounding universities to explore various scientific interests. Our internship cohort was immeasurably lucky to have been in Boston for the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) Annual Meeting – which for the first time in 4 years, was hosted in Boston. Over the course of the four-day event, I was able to learn from stem cell researchers around the world, and had the chance to listen to inspirational scientists such as Shinya Yamanaka, who won the Nobel Prize in 2012 for his discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). I explored topics from organoid generation to computational modeling of stem cell fates, and made valuable connections throughout the event.
Beyond experiencing the internship program itself, I was very eager to meet my fellow interns, and for good reason. The internship cohort of 36 was selected from an international pool of roughly 800 applicants, which made for an extremely diverse group consisting of unique personalities. Indeed, evenings after lab and weekends (when not spent in lab) were opportunities to explore Boston (and New York City, on one occasion) while getting to know the stories of interns who attended university in places ranging from Harvard and other American institutions to Spain, Colombia, Palestine, and the United Kingdom. This summer, I had the fortune to have some of the deepest conversations I have had in my life with my fellow interns and make strong bonds with a group of exceptional individuals – bonds that I am certain I will keep for many years to come.
HIP trip to New York!
Overall, HIP was a humbling experience that undoubtedly made me a better critical thinker and a more driven individual. The Closing Symposium, featuring the research of all interns, was a testament to the remarkable milestones that can be achieved during one summer. I could not have imagined all the incredible things that came out of this experience, and am infinitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to find out.
Final note: if you are an undergraduate student thinking about applying to HIP or any other summer research program, feel free to contact me with any questions!
Ghazal Haddad has been a part of SSSCR since 2014. She is the Founder and former President of the University of Toronto SSSCR (UofT-SSSCR). Currently, she works as the Community Service Chair for the UofT-SSSCR and is a member of the SSSCR-International Executive Committee. Ghazal is a senior at the University of Toronto majoring in Molecular Genetics and Immunology. She has the most fun when dancing, coding, reading, or doing research.