By day, Rebecca Shepherd is a very serious PhD candidate at Lancaster University, UK, where she researches the role of fat cells…
Written by Jessica Rech an undergraduate student at IUPUI and coauthored by Brandi Gilbert, director of LHSI.
I am an undergraduate student studying at IUPUI who had a disrupted school experience. The COVID-19 pandemic crashed into our worlds last spring, but that’s not the only anniversary coming up for me this month. Almost exactly a year ago I began my Life-Health Sciences Internship (LHSI). And what would be a better way to commemorate this anniversary than presenting my experience with science communication through, well, communication?
The fields of science and health care are vast, with a wide range of different opportunities for undergraduate students to explore. Whether it be lab work, health administration, education, or (my personal favorite) science communication, the search for where to start can be overwhelming.
I began my search last year just after switching majors to Cytotechnology where my advisor recommended that I check out the LHSI program. This program was specifically designed to get undergraduate students who are interested in science into the field for real experience. The other goal of LHSI is to set students up for the professional world outside of academics. The program focuses on building a community among the 75 interns to reflect on their experiences together and begin their professional network with peers who will be future colleagues.
I found that even the first month of applying for this program I had gained professional experiences that I had never had before. From the application process where I needed to brush off my old resume, to writing my first CV (curriculum vitae), I was learning about real world situations that I will come across during my time in and after college.
My LHSI internship focuses on science communication, and I have worked this year as an integral part of the editorial team for the PLOS SciComm Blog. I have worked with authors to get their science featured on the blog and I have written standard operating procedure materials and managed our social media account. I have even authored my own pieces for the blog.
LHSI is a paid internship for undergraduate IUPUI students interested in health and science. The program pairs students up with mentors to work with throughout the year. This gives students the opportunity to select a field which they are specifically interested in, while also getting to learn from a mentor of that field.
All LHSI applicants are in their first or second year of college, making it important for the program to provide clear expectations and support as they navigate their first professional application and internship experience. The program also includes opportunities to wrestle with questions and topics they may not have considered yet, such as reflection on professional identity and ideal work environment as well as determining next steps to achieve their post-graduation goals.
LHSI intentionally builds programming for interns to come together to reflect on these ideas along with sharing their growth in writing through monthly ePortfolio prompts. Brandi Gilbert, the director of LHSI, also says, “I hear from interns and know they’re having similar feelings and experiences and think they’re alone in that, and it’s important to give them the opportunity to share with each other and hear ‘I feel that way too!’”.
This year was a bit different from the rest.
The pandemic provided a unique opportunity for new ways of engaging and replacing some of the lost social aspects of college. This included optional, but well-attended, monthly intern video chats to build community and reflect on individual experiences. This will become a permanent part of the program, reducing the scheduling and space issues typical of large in-person gatherings.
The internship showcase also went virtual as a website highlighting intern ePortfolios in lieu of a poster session in spring 2020 and 2021. An unexpected benefit was being able to share ePortfolios across distances, enabling interns to share what they did with friends, and allowing families who typically were not able to attend an in-person poster session still experience each intern’s work. Some elements of this virtual showcase will remain even after we resume in-person events.
My Work in Science Communication
As an undergraduate, there is so much left I still have yet to face. One thing I really wanted to gain from LHSI was getting experience outside of the classroom that is still within the science field. Learning about science is so much more than just lab work or general course work. There is a whole other aspect of science that is just as important, and that is communication.
Building a bridge between scientists of different fields with each other and with the public is crucial. Throughout my internship I got to meet with a few different scientists who were eager about writing their experiences for the blog. I also got to write my own piece about neuroscience and politics which taught me so much more about how to communicate clearly and with empathy to any audience.
Being able to build these relationships with other scientists, authors, and even getting the chance to write my own piece taught me so much more about the importance of connecting any type of research to the public. Joining LHSI not only helped me academically in developing my science literacy and professionalism skills, but it also connected me with many other interns and provided me with a well rounded experience.
Looking back on the year, despite the changes that the pandemic made to being an LHSI intern, I was still able to learn so much and gain real world experiences that I have already started using outside of the classroom.
Want to read more about my internship experience? Check out my website here
Learn more about LHSI and how to get involved here: https://lhsi.iupui.edu/
Edited by Jason Organ, PhD, and Krista Hoffmann-Longtin, PhD, Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis.