“I didn’t know if I should apply to it at first,” recalls Emily Harris ’22. “It was a national internship, so I knew there would be a lot of applicants.” In the spring of 2021, Harris had received an email from Hiram’s Office of Career Development regarding internship opportunities with the National Cancer Institute, one of the country’s premier cancer research centers and part of the National Institutes of Health. Despite her initial hesitation, Harris applied and was chosen as one among a select group. “They took a total of 25 or so interns,” she says, “And they had around 20 labs all over the country.”
Harris was assigned to work with a team at the University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia. Leading her team was Ravi Radhakrishnan, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Penn, as well as a group of graduate and post-doctoral students. Together, they were researching a specific gene associated with aggressive tumors, found in more than 50% of cancers. The team was relying on bioengineering tools to analyze large amounts of data. “It was a lot different than what I’ve ever done,” says Harris.
Given the pandemic, Harris worked with the team remotely over the summer for 10 weeks, relying on technology to both connect her with the team and fulfill her role in the project. Since Harris had an academic background in both the life sciences and math, the team felt she would be an asset in compiling and analyzing the data. Harris had to gain some coding skills to get started, but then she was able to crunch the numbers and provide critical data analysis to the group. “I’d upload data sets into the computer, which would run all sorts of experiments and then send the data off to a supercomputer,” she explains. “The supercomputers do the work that our computers can’t do, and then they send us the results. Then we would analyze the results.”
“I think it’s a good skill to have, to be aware of the research that’s happening in medicine that’s not directly in a hospital.”
Although Radhakrishnan and the research team’s work is ongoing, Harris got to be involved in significant findings, which she then shared with the National Cancer Institute. At the end of the summer, the interns gathered virtually for a conference with members of the NIH. “I did get an award at that conference,” she says. “Out of all the interns, I had the most results.” In addition, Harris was a recipient of a Blair Undergraduate Research Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, which provided additional funding for her research team.
While her career aspirations don’t primarily focus on research, she was glad to have seen this side of patient care. “I think it’s a good skill to have, to be aware of the research that’s happening in medicine that’s not directly in a hospital,” she says. After graduating this spring, Harris will be attending Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) in Rootstown, Ohio, and has plans to practice medicine in a rural setting.