Reaching the summit: climbing with the burden of pain

My fellow science geeks, sadly, this will be my last World of Work blog post.  However, rather than focusing on the fleeting nature of summers, I wish to walk you through my achievements, insights, and trials and tribulations of working in a biomedical research lab with a severe chronic pain condition.  Since the age of twelve, I have endured an excruciating nerve pain syndrome known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)[i].  Here, I will briefly mention how CRPS affects me, with the hopes of encouraging students living with disabilities and adversity to pursue their career passions and dreams.

One of the most common questions I am asked regarding my pain is “how?”: “how do you attend college?”  “How do you participate in a research lab?”  “How do you live with the pain?”  My response remains steadfast; human beings (and life in general) possess a remarkable ability for adaptation, even in the bleakest of circumstances.  I believe in challenging the notion that extreme adversity cannot be triumphed in some form.  As you read this blog post, I hope you will view my experiences as evidence for why your hardships should never preclude you from actualizing your dreams.

Shapiro Science Center (SSC) of Brandeis University. The SSC is the annual location of SciFest, an undergraduate poster session [ii].

A few weeks ago, I presented a poster of my summer research findings at Brandeis University’s SciFest VII [iii].  SciFest is an annual poster session showcasing undergraduate student research hosted in my favorite building on campus, the Shapiro Science Center.  In this very building, I learned a cursory understanding of journal style science writing in Dr. Kosinski Collins’s (Dr. K-C) Biology Laboratory course (thank you Dr. K-C!).  I only had a taste of journal diction, yet I relished the opportunity to learn the art behind science writing.  Generating a poster presentation of original research presented my next learning opportunity.  Thankfully, the post-doctoral fellow (“post-doc”) I worked alongside and my principal investigator (PI) were ecstatic to hear about Brandeis SciFest, and strongly encouraged me to create a poster of my summer research.  Thus, I began crafting selected “mini” sections of a journal style paper, beginning with an abstract, followed by a curtailed introduction and figure descriptions of my experimental evidence.  I was fortunate to receive invaluable advice from my co-workers; I passed my writing along to my supervising post-doc, asking her to tear my writing apart.  I wanted her to know “I mean business” when it comes to learning.  I circulated my writing amongst lab members, also gathering my PI’s sage advice.  This gave me a small taste of the manuscript writing process, an essential component of every research laboratory.  This process culminated in a poster, which, upon entering this summer, I knew little about.  My poster explored the role of cysteine restriction in energy homeostasis, focusing on a key metabolic pathway known as the trans-sulfuration pathway.

Pictured above is the intersection of the methionine cycle (from methionine to homocysteine), the folate cycle (far left), and the trans-sulfuration pathway (bolded in red). I focused on the enzyme CGL, or cystathionine-gamma-lyase. This figure was created with assistance of Yang et al. 2016  [iv].
I am immensely proud of my poster and presentation, given that my success represents triumph both over internal and external doubts regarding my capacity for achievement in the face of debilitating pain.  Given that my physical disability effects my left hand and arm, I was concerned regarding my ability to efficiently learn new experimental techniques.  However, with patience, I successfully completed methodologies such as Western Blotting [v], including the pain-inducing sonication step [vi].  Sonication involves “shooting” high energy sound waves into a sample containing proteins and nucleic acids.  The sound waves shear DNA into small chunks, thus liberating nuclear (nucleus-bound) transcription factors (proteins) for proteomic investigation.  I may have taken a few extra minutes to complete this step, but I obtained pure proteins, which I was able to immunoblot for [Western Blotting] analysis.  Another technique I am proud of learning is mouse dissection.  Although simpler than the microscopic Drosophila (fruit fly) dissections I have attempted at Brandeis, mouse dissection still requires significant dexterity and focus.  I was concerned I would lose control over my left hand, or that the pain would inhibit my precision.  However, I excelled, even learning how to excise “speck-like” structures such as the pituitary glands in the brain and the thyroid gland in the neck.  I also improved upon techniques such as RNA tissue extraction, reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) [vii], study design, statistical analyses, and more.

Altogether, I am quite proud of my tireless work this summer, both experimentally and regarding my pain condition.  I see my work as another step towards achieving my career goals in medicine.  There is an expanding pile of evidence that my pain will not write my story; I will.  I wish to convey this simple fact to other students living with disabilities and adversity; you can achieve your greatest dreams and more.  Although I have yet to accomplish my goal of becoming a physician scientist, I know I will get there.  You will reach your goal too.

 

-Josh Lepson

 

References

[i] American RSDHope. 2017. CRPS OVERVIEW/DESCRIPTION. Accessed on August 17.

http://www.rsdhope.org/what-is-crps1.html

[ii]  Brandeis University. Integrated Media – CAMPUS BUILDINGS. Accessed on August 17.

https://www.brandeis.edu/communications/media/mediaresources/buildings.html

[iii] SciFest. 2017. SciFest VII Abstracts. Accessed on August 17.

https://kb.brandeis.edu/display/SCI/SciFest+VII+Abstracts

[iv] Yang, M., Vousden, K.H. 2016. Serine and one-carbon metabolism in cancer. Nat. Rev. Cancer. 16(10): 650-662.

[v] ThermoFisher Scientific. Overview of Western Blotting. Accessed on August 17.

https://www.thermofisher.com/us/en/home/life-science/protein-biology/protein-biology-learning-center/protein-biology-resource-library/pierce-protein-methods/overview-western-blotting.html

[vi] New England Biolabs. DNA Fragmentation – Application Overview. Accessed on August 16.

https://www.neb.com/applications/library-preparation-for-next-generation-sequencing/dna-fragmentation

[vii] ThermoFisher Scientific. Basic Principles of RT-qPCR: Introduction to RT-qPCR. Accessed on August 17.

https://www.thermofisher.com/us/en/home/brands/thermo-scientific/molecular-biology/molecular-biology-learning-center/molecular-biology-resource-library/basic-principles-rt-qpcr.html

Work with a Purpose

In my time so far this summer at Fiege Films, I’ve had the opportunity to really get a good sense of what working on a team is like. I’m instinctively independent, and I usually like to work on my own, so working here has definitely been a bit of an adjustment compared to how I usually get things done when I’m at school. 

Collaborating with a team on a creative project is something that’s relatively new to me, but I’m finding that it’s a really rewarding experience. Because it’s a team, we each have the opportunity to ask for input and get feedback. I think that having the immediate ability to get other people’s opinions on things makes the overall work stronger.

In terms of technical skills, I’ve learned a lot more about video editing than I thought I would. Working on a project in which I assembled choice segments from hours of interview footage, I was able to get frequent feedback on the artistic direction of the project, but also learned and developed a lot on the technical side. Using programs like Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere, and Adobe Media Encoder day-to-day, I think I’ve gained a lot more technical skills that I’m eager to keep working on when I get back to school.

I’ve really been enjoying my time so far at Fiege Films, and the office environment reflects where I would want to work in the future. I like the balance between independence and collaboration, the fact that I’m given plenty of free reign and leeway on assignments, but there’s still always the opportunity to ask for clarification or for help if things aren’t working quite how they should.

In researching the Gulf Coast, I’ve also been able to develop my investigatory and analysis skills, which I’m sure will be handy when research papers start to roll in.

I’m learning different search strategies, and how to dig deeper if at first I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for. For example, in researching the petrochemical complex around Mossville, Louisiana, I was able to dig deep into the Calcasieu Parish tax records to find exactly how much of the surrounding land was owned by oil and chemical companies. And, after a little research, it shocked me.

This chart, put together by The Intercept, further elaborates on how research can illustrate a historic culture of exploitation:

I think this summer has been so rewarding because the purpose of all of this editing and research and development has been for something that I firmly believe in.

Even though doing research work can take a long time, it really doesn’t feel cumbersome or boring—I think it’s because of why I’m doing it. Because I get to be part of a team that’s passionate about fighting for social justice for threatened communities like Mossville, because I’m personally invested in the mission, this experience has been very rich and rewarding, and it’s been going by really fast.

For the future, I think this means that I’m on the right path, career-wise. I’m glad I’m studying film, because this internship has confirmed for me that it’s a great and effective way to tell stories that matter. And I think that’s why this summer has been so great for me, because I get to work creatively with a great team to help further a cause I care about. 

New York City AAPI: More Than What Meets The Eye

Over the past month, I have commuted 80 hours, talked with approximately 200 strangers, and used 2 times more Mandarin than English. This summer, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work as a Hepatitis B Program Research Intern at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in New York City.

The Health Center is a nonprofit federally-qualified community health center licensed by the New York State Department of Health. Its mission is to eliminate disparities in health, improve health status, and expand access to the medically under-served (treating all patients regardless of immigration status or income) with a focus on Asian Americans.

The Health Center has a rich history that dates back to 1971, when volunteer doctors, nurses, social workers, and students organized a 10-day Chinatown Health Fair; the first clinic ever held in the streets of New York City’s Chinatown. Forty years later, the Health Center has multiple locations throughout the city, with adequate clinical space and services that meet growing community demands of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in New York City. The Health Center is a leader in providing comprehensive primary care services that are high quality, culturally relevant, and affordable. It also promotes the health of the community through innovative, award-winning health education and advocacy programs, and by recruiting bilingual and bi-cultural health care providers and staff.

With regards to health disparities, the Health Center won the 2015 Tisch Community Health Prize for its Hepatitis B Program. Hepatitis B is a life long liver disease caused by a viral infection that is more common among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) than any other ethnic group, with 1 in 10 AAPIs having chronic hepatitis B. Although AAPIs make up less than 5% of the U.S. population, they account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic hepatitis B. Unfortunately, the disease can progress without visible symptoms and lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer, or premature death. Furthermore, since there is no cure, physicians need to treat chronic hepatitis B patients on a case-by-case basis according to Clinical Guideline Regulations. This is why effective education about hepatitis B prevention, transmission, and screening is essential.

As a research intern, I am taking the lead on a survey evaluation of a health education comic book on hepatitis B called “The Test,” developed by a local Asian American artist in partnership with the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center Hepatitis B Team and Health Education Department in order to make hepatitis B education more engaging for all ages. Each day, I administer 15-minute surveys in English and Mandarin to patients in the waiting rooms and analyze survey data in preparation for a poster presentation at the American Public Health Association’s conference. My goal by summer’s end is to complete at least 100 surveys, revise and improve the health education material, and provide meaningful data about where New York City stands in terms of hepatitis B awareness.

So far, I have administered 86 surveys to patients of varied ethnicity (including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Indian, Filipino, Latino, Spanish, White, and African American), ages, genders, and educational backgrounds at the Internal Medicine Unit of the Health Center. The work has been both challenging and enjoyable. Due to the nature of human subject research, I have had many insightful one-on-one interactions with patients.

In a short period of time, NYC Chinatown and Charles B. Wang Community Health Center have taught me so much about public health, social justice, and my Chinese-American roots. Gradually, I am learning the nuances of my culture and that there is more depth to each person or situation than what meets the eye. As the American healthcare system falls short in delivering culturally effective care and bridging health disparities gaps, I realize how important it is to continue advocating for the Asian American community.

Thank you for reading my blog. More posts/updates to come!

-Michelle Yan ’19

Midpoint at Verité

As I reach the halfway point in my internship, things are beginning to pick up at Verité.  Deadlines are rapidly approaching for some projects, while other projects are just being started.  My fellow interns and I have finally become fully comfortable with our roles and responsibilities at Verité, and have learned how to manage our time surrounding those responsibilities.

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Entrance of Verité

I have lived in Amherst, MA, for the majority of my life, so I did not expect to experience it differently throughout the course of my internship.  However, the research I have done this summer has altered how I view the world, including how I see my small hometown. After being at Verité, I have become more inclined to take into account the nature and extent of each individual’s rights, specifically labor rights, whether I am buying produce from a local family farm or am buying food at a mega supermarket chain.

My emotions at the office are more dichotomous.  On the one hand, I spend my time at work researching abhorrent topics such as child labor and human trafficking in an attempt to eventually contribute to the eradication of those human rights abuses. Read the 2016 Trafficking Report here

On the other hand, the people who surround me at Verité are not simply co-workers; rather, they are a community of people who provide one another with support—whether it is career-based or emotional.  I am incredibly thankful to be surrounded by such genuinely good and caring people, who not only push me to learn new skills and information, but who also take the time to sit down with me and hash out any questions I may have.

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The Main Conference Room

I have found both similarities and differences in the world of work in comparison to university and academic life. The main similarity is that research plays a major part in both settings. However, in a university setting, the research goes into some kind of project or paper, which is demonstrative of my academic capabilities and displays what I have learned. In the world of work, my research is for other people. Rather than hoping to get a good grade, I am instead striving to help others. The effects of this research are more immediately impactful. When at school, if I lose focus or procrastinate, it is generally only myself who is affected by it. If I poorly managed my time at my internship, I would be guilty of negatively affecting many. At Verité, each individual comes together to form a community. We work together on projects and ideas, so losing focus is not an option if one wants to keep up. (Check out Verité’s monthly newsletter!)

My time at Verité has allowed me to expand my skillset. This internship has been my first office job, so spending all my time at a computer has been an adjustment. Prior to Verité, I often had trouble managing multiple projects and tasks, and would become overwhelmed. However working in an office has taught me effective ways to organize myself and manage my time. While working in an office is not necessarily what I want to do in the future, it has been an important and valuable experience.

Georgia Nichols, ’18

End of Internship at CGSHR

Reflecting back on my internship at the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights, there are many things that I have taken away from this experience that will enrich my life here at Brandeis and beyond. As a student, this internship opened my eyes to range of armed conflicts and human rights abuses taking place around the world today. I am so much better versed in geography, in international and comparative politics, and in current issues. I have learned an entire new language almost — that of gender analysis as a lens through which to more comprehensively research situations and conflicts. As a senior-year student, with an imminent post-grad job search always in the back of my mind, this internship also helped me to see what working in NGOs and research or advocacy groups might be like, and put me in contact with a whole range of interesting organizations from all around the world.

Now that I have completed this internship, there is even more I want to learn than when I began. At the Consortium, we read and spoke a lot about peacebuilding processes post-conflict, as well as peace negotiations during conflict. Being a “peace-nik” used to get me called “naive” or “idealistic.” Now, I know that there is a whole body of research out there on these kinds of peace-building processes and methods of post-conflict reconstruction, that show this kind of work to be valuable, practical, and tangible. Moving forward, I want to conduct targeted case study research on what kinds of peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction strategies actually work, and why (from an individual level, incorporating my psychology major). I want to look at the effect of sustained and chronic stress in conflict on the psyche, and its implications for post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding work.

As a Social Justice recipient, this ties directly into both challenging and reinforcing my ideas of social justice. I feel relieved and gratified to have read and immersed myself in research devoted to the practical application of peaceful solutions to violent conflict. Cycles of violence are endlessly complex and self-reinforcing, and it takes incredibly careful and thoughtful research to look at why these cycles of violence are perpetuated, and what kinds of interventions or support can help them to find new paths to peace. At this internship, I learned how to better ask the important questions, how to analyze conflict from a gender perspective— and ultimately, learned that this type of research does exist and, armed with this knowledge and experience I have gained, I feel I can become a more effective, informed, careful and practical peacebuilder in my future work.

My advice for any student interested in working at the Consortium? Read up on current events! You will get so much more out of the discussions and research if you already have a foundational base of knowledge about current world conflicts. When I began my internship, I didn’t even know where some of the countries were that we were studying.

Another thing I would advise, after a more personal reflection, for anyone looking to work in this field– would be to really know yourself and respect your limits. There are endless amounts of work to be done at this kind of small NGO, and often there is not enough staff or funding to get it all done. At one point in the summer, I found myself being added to more projects than I could possibly keep up with. I requested a meeting with my supervisor– and it was the first time I have ever had to tell a boss or teacher that I simply could not finish the work, that it was too much. She was incredibly understanding, and immediately shifted one of the projects to another intern who was looking for more work. It was such a simple thing for her, but such a huuuuuuge weight off my shoulders for me. I learned a lot about respecting my self-limits at work, and about leaving work at the door once I came home.

Finally, I am incredibly that this WOW Fellowship gave me the opportunity to have this experience at the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. I have learned so so much and my life has been so incredibly enriched, and I genuinely could not have done this without the WOW!

Last Week at the McAllister Lab

Another summer done at the McAllister Lab! My experience at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School was absolutely amazing, and this summer was the best out of all of my previous summers there. This summer, I practiced and learned many wet-lab techniques. Additionally, I  participated in multiple journal clubs where members of my lab met to discuss the results of other scientists that do work that is similar to ours. In these journal clubs, we analyzed their results with our lens, and I learned to start questioning the integrity of others’ results alongside my other lab members. I used to accept the data presented by peer-reviewed articles with a sort of blind faith, but I’ve been slowly learning how to question what I read because not all reviewers catch the holes in someone’s research.

2014 Summer Students of the McAllister Lab, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

After working alone all summer without a direct in-lab mentor, I can say that I am now very comfortable with the idea of planning my own experiments and days at work. With all the results that have been generated from the past and this current summer, I have been creating figures that will be used in our upcoming paper. Some of these figures include growth kinetics charts, incidence graphs, microscopy panels, and concentration graphs. I have also learned how to use CellProfiler, a cell image analysis software that was developed at the Broad Institute. It has been particularly helpful in analyzing the microscopy I have done all summer, and the best part is that I can use it to analyze my results at home even though I’m finished with my experiments now. Dr. McAllister and I have had multiple meetings together about how the paper will be laid out, and we are currently maintaining correspondence about its progress. I also am excited to say that some of my results from the summer were novel, so we are now trying to determine where the data will fit inside the paper. I presented my research to the rest of Brigham and Women’s Division of Hematology last Friday and I am relieved that the presentation went well.

Going forward, I plan to take all the skills that I learned from the McAllister Lab with me as I pursue other research endeavors. I have had the privilege of developing an in-depth understanding of research academia through this internship, and I believe that this understanding will be particularly useful in the fall semester when I start as an undergraduate research assistant at one of Brandeis’ neuroscience labs. I think for next summer, it would be interesting to try to find an internship in the field of industry, perhaps at a biotechnology company to see what it’s like to be on the for-profit side of biology instead of the non-profit side. For anyone who is interested in pursuing an internship in research academia, I would first suggest finding a special program for students that put them in mentored research environments. Many colleges and hospitals around the country have these summer research internships, and it is during these summers that students can form long-lasting career networks. After being in a research environment for a whole summer, there is a high possibility of returning for another summer if correspondence is maintained. For researching specifically under the Harvard Medical School umbrella of summer programs, this is a great resource. The program I was originally in (for the first two summers) was the CURE Program of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

Overall, I had a wonderful summer. On our last day, Dr. McAllister participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with me and some of our other summer students. We all went out with a “splash” and it was a fun experience! Here is the link to our video: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: McAllister Lab

McAllister Lab and Mullaly Lab at the going-away party of our administrative assistant

Irene Wong, ’17

 

Halfway Through the Summer at McLean Hospital

This summer has been full of exciting new research at the Behavioral Health Partial Program at McLean Hospital. I have accomplished a lot since the beginning of the summer. My main learning goals consisted of acquiring knowledge about the process behind writing a publishable research article, and I am certainly forming an understanding. I learned how to complete a full literature search and formed a database of all of the articles relevant to our research paper, which will address the predictors of suicidality in patients with psychosis. Based on past research, we chose what predictors to include in our model. Upon doing so, we assessed the chosen factors for significance and found those that relate to suicidal ideation. I learned about the statistics behind the analyses used in our study. Thus, I have already learned how to complete a literature search, hypothesize and formulate a model, and understand statistical analyses. Recently, I completed a rough draft of the introduction and methods section of the paper.

The building to the left is the BHP headquarters.  (http://cdasr.mclean.harvard.edu/index.php/participate/directions)
The building to the left is the BHP headquarters. (http://cdasr.mclean.harvard.edu/index.php/participate/directions)

These have not been the only projects I have completed. I am also working on completing a bigger literature search for a cognitive biased modification (CBM) experiment that is ongoing, along with nearly completing a visual timeline of BHP measures. I have read widely about CBM, and am continuing to learn more about the effect of this type of treatment on mental health. From the timeline of measures I learned and understood the current and past surveys administered at the BHP. This timeline will also provide comprehensive information about the surveys for other researchers who are using BHP data. The timeline will visually show how long certain surveys were administered to patients and how many patients have completed the surveys. Overall, I have learned a lot about forming a study, analyzing data, and writing drafts. I have also been involved with other studies within the BHP and have gotten the chance to help make data more organized for others to use.

My daily BHP materials.
My daily BHP materials.

I recognize my growth in research knowledge as I read studies for literature searches, which are becoming easier to complete. It has become easier to understand other papers’ rationale and methodology. When starting the rough draft of the paper, I found it easier to write than my past psychology papers.

I am most proud of the work I have completed on the suicidality and psychosis paper, and it is exciting for me to begin the process of drafting and re-writing. It took a lot of work to get everything completed and to begin writing. So far, I feel like I have gained a better understanding of the research process, which will be useful if I am involved in research in the future. I have also gained a sense of what research is like in a treatment setting, which has given me the opportunity to better understand the field I hope to pursue. Besides understanding, I have gained focus and persistence, along with skills in maneuvering SPSS, Excel, BHP databases, and online databases.

Lauryn Garner, ’15

Mid-Point Post from UMB Campus Center

I’m a little more than 50% done with my summer internship and I can’t believe how fast time has flown by! This summer has already been incredibly educational and I’ve had chances to develop myself professionally and personally. Knowing that I only have 5 and a half weeks left makes me even more motivated to make the absolute most out of the learning experiences I’ve had.

So far, the Consortium has given me the chance to expand my research skills, improve my work ethic and meet a few really interesting people! I am currently working on an extremely extensive research project on Gender and Environmental Security. I inherited over 100 PDFs on the topic and my job is to make sure the entire database is organized into subtopics and to further expand it with up-to-date scholarly materials. Once this is done, I will write an annotated bibliography in which every document has a proper citation and notes! While this task sounds pretty daunting, I can’t wait to be able to say that I am quite familiar with a really important topic and that I’ve organized all this information in an accessible way for those who may need it – namely NGOs all over the world that will hopefully apply scholarly information to their grassroots organizing.

On top of this research project, I am also dealing with a few documents that contain very specific UN language and topics, such as country background reports. Being part of the NGO Working Group on Women, we create materials that are to be used as reference for all other NGOs in the group. This mostly means updating documents reflecting the UN’s progress in applying resolution 1325 to a variety of countries, in a variety of settings such as post-conflict.

While all of this seems like a lot to balance every day, work life has been made easier by the wonderful group of fellow interns I’ve been lucky enough to meet. With only 3 paid staff members, the Consortium runs almost solely on interns. Due to the nature of our organization, we mostly end up being female rising seniors from excellent Universities all over the country, all interested in NGO work, research and gender analysis. I didn’t think I could find that many people interested in all of these things!

For the second half of my time at the Consortium, I hope to continue to develop relationships and skills. Most importantly, I look forward to tying this learning experience to time I have left at Brandeis, developing a senior thesis topic, preparing to apply to grad school, jobs, etc! Let’s hope it doesn’t fly by way too fast because it has truly been a wonderful summer!

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This is my view from the place I spend the most time in – The UMass Boston Campus Center.

 

First Week at the Consortium!

Returning from abroad, I find myself in Boston this summer working with the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. Located on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus, the Consortium is a non-profit organization working towards a just and gender equitable world. Under the leadership of director Carol Cohn, the organization dedicates itself to researching gender and security issues, bridging the gap between researchers and policymakers, and promoting education and activism on these issues. As part of their mission to end conflict and establish peace, the Consortium hosts lectures, discussions, and workshops, most notably their Speaker Series. For the Speaker Series, the Consortium hosts a variety of speakers, such as prominent scholars, policy practitioners, and women leaders from conflict-affected areas to participate and engage in dialogue about their work.

Phoebe Randel is the current Associate Director
Phoebe Randel is the current Associate Director

Unable to attend any of the internship fairs or campus recruitment events, I spent my internship search online. Having an interest in gender and human rights issues, I was eager to find out more about the Consortium once I stumbled upon their site. After researching the organization and their internship program, I sent an application to Carol Cohn, the director. Shortly after applying, I received a request for letters of reference and confirmed my interest in working with the organization. A few weeks following, I received an internship offer and began my application for the World of Work Fellowship!

At the Consortium this summer, I will be assisting the organization with a variety of projects. For the most part, I will be working on projects related to their website.  A week after orientation, all the interns have been actively working on the same website project. We are gathering resources and creating citations for the Consortium’s Research Hub. The Research Hub is a database complied of scholarly resources related to gender, armed conflict, peacebuilding, security, and more just post-conflict societies. After a few days spent looking up articles and pulling resources, I have already been exposed to an variety of gender and security related issues that I have never come across before.

Following this internship, I expect to have a much stronger grasp of the field. Although I have never worked with a nonprofit or gender issues before, through orientation and training, I feel ready to take on the tasks that have been assigned. Initially all the information that we received from orientation seemed a bit overwhelming, but after starting to complete the intern assignments, I see the need for all the training. Additionally, the staff have been so helpful with any questions that I have had. With only three staff members and twenty-five interns, our supervisors have more than enough questions to answer, but they graciously take the time to help us when we need it. And even with such a large staff to intern ratio, I have had the chance to talk with the directors and the special projects manager individually to discuss my interests and just to get to know one another better.

Aside from research and website work, I will be working on budgeting at the Consortium and am one of the networking directors for the Consortium community.  As a networking director, I will help interns connect with each other, as well as with the staff and the directors of the Consortium. So far, I have met many other interns with similar aspirations and interests. I look forward to getting to know everyone at the organization better and to meet everyone that’s part of the Consortium community! I am also so glad and excited to be working with two other Brandeis students for the summer. It was a pleasant surprise to see them the first day at orientation!

Fellow WOW recipients!
Fellow WOW recipients at the office!

Only a week in and I feel that I have already learned plenty, but also that get the sense that I’ll be learning so much more as the weeks pass. I hope to spend more time interacting with our Consortium family, not just within the office and also to explore more of my future academic and career goals as I take on this journey for the next two months.

Until next time!

Iris Lee, ’15

First week with the Center on Gender, Security, and Human Rights

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Its a beautiful sunny day and I have no idea where I am going, navigating criss-crossing high-ways into the heart of the city. I pull up to the entrance of UMass Boston and the whole city falls away, melting into the edges of the bay. There is a girl hoolah-hooping by the water in the shade of the trees. You can catch glimpses of the bay through every window I walk by in the Campus Center. I am looking for the door labeled “the Center on Gender, Security, and Human Rights” (CGSHR) (genderandsecurity.org)

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The Center on Gender, Security, and Human Rights is an organization devoted to the dual goals of building knowledge around gender and security to inform policy-makers and practitioners, as well as creating feminist gendered analyses to promote justice and sustainable peace. Founded in 2002, the CGSHR is still a small organization with just three official staff members. It is a great place to learn the inner workings of a small NGO, as well as become familiar and well-versed in the latest research into peace building, armed conflict, and the work of the UN. The CGSHR is currently a member of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security and helped to get passed UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This landmark resolution,

reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

The CGSHR is also currently working on the development of a Research Hub on their website – genderandsecurity.org – with the aim to make this the world’s most comprehensive and publicly accessible database of scholarly research on the topics in this field (gender, armed conflict, peace building, security, and justice in post-conflict societies). The Research Hub can be used to inform policymaking, empower women activists from conflict zones lacking access to this important research and information, and help foster new collaborations between scholars in the field.

At the moment, all the interns at the CGSHR are working on entering resources into this Research Hub online. We have been taught how to use a bunch of awesome software tools, such as Zotero (creates citations and stores your research for you!) and SmartSheet. At the most recent staff meeting, however, we were given a list of Annotated Bibliographies that the CGSHR still needs work on, and we made a list of those that we were most interested in. We will find out our assignments soon – the ones that I signed up for had to do with gender analyses of peace building, peace negotiations, corruption (in governments) with a focus on the Middle East. Once assigned a topic, we will be searching for current research within our topic, creating annotated bibliographies, and posting these to the website. I am looking forward to reading widely on these topics, for they will help me to narrow in on what I want to pursue for my senior thesis in politics next year!

IMG_2974The first week here has been full of information and insightful conversations. The staff meeting taught us all about the methods of doing a gender analysis (of anything!) by always remembering to ask questions (What perspectives and viewpoints is the negotiation missing without involving women in the peace process? What different needs/capabilities/and aspirations do women bring to a post-conflict situation? etc.) and what certain key terms in the field mean (DDR, TRCs, CSOs, and the like). Every day (if it is sunny), the interns each lunch together by the bay. And since the office is small, we are encouraged to work either from home or a nearby coffee shop together a couple times a week. The Social Chair at the CGSHR will soon be planning events and finding free concerts/events/things to do in Boston for us all to get to know each other. And I am lucky to get to work with these two girls, also from Brandeis!

Week one leaves me excited to get more involved in the research in this field! Next on my reading list: the IASC Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings

– Emily Friedman

Getting Acquainted with Streetlight Schools

“Good after…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice to see you!”

After three tries, the classroom full of young learners welcomed me to Leopard Tree Learning Centre in perfect unison. I started giggling as my supervisor, the founder and director of Streetlight Schools (which runs Leopard Tree) introduced me as Ma’am, and told the class that I wasn’t just a visitor, but that I would be their new tutor. Then, as if on cue, the littlest ones jumped up from their seats and all ran up to introduce themselves and hug me. Although I was clearly disturbing the class, their teacher (whom they also refer to as “Ma’am”), let them carry on and eventually we all settled down and listened to her lesson on multi-digit addition and subtraction.

Despite it only being my first day, I could already tell that the class was hectic. There were at least 25 kids in the room, ranging in ages from 5-14. Leopard Tree is split into two classes: younger learners and older learners (with a few exceptions in those divisions). There is one teacher for each class. However, within those two rooms, there are a range of skill levels, both high-need learners and low-need learners. The Centre is intended to be an education lab that caters to children who live in Bjala Square, a property company that aims to bring affordable urban living to Jeppestown, a suburb of Johannesburg. Streetlight Schools and Bjala Properties recently partnered together to bring Leopard Tree to the Square, so that they could assess urban education and attempt to create a model that caters to the needs of urban learners in South Africa. (For more information on Streetlight Schools click here and for more information on Bjala Properties click here.)

Photo courtesy of mafadi.co.za
Photo courtesy of mafadi.co.za

The learners, most of whom live at Bjala Square, come from a variety of schools in the area, and obviously have a range of backgrounds in literacy and numeracy. That is what makes the Centre so hectic, as of now. It is very difficult for only two teachers to cater to the needs of all of the learners, which is part my job to alleviate as an intern. However, the current set-up of the Centre is temporary: Streetlight is currently working on a huge expansion project, through which the Learning Centre will have a new location where they can accommodate at least 100 learners. They are also in the process of founding a private school in the neighborhood, where they intend to implement the education models that they have been evaluating/developing in the Centre. (The new centre will continue to serve as an education lab to create new and innovative models of urban education.) They hope to open the school next year, beginning with grades R (kindergarten) and 1, and then adding a level each year.

As an intern, my duties fit into each of these different missions. In the mornings, I work in the office, mostly doing research for Streetlight. Right now, I am researching literacy assessments for primary school learners, and using models from leading education systems in the world. I am also in the process of creating assessments that I will be administering to the younger learners to gauge their levels of literacy within the next week. After completing this, I will begin to develop an assessment for the higher levels.

Photo courtesy of http://www.leopardtree.org/
Photo courtesy of http://www.leopardtree.org/

In the afternoons, I work in the Learning Centre as a tutor. My purpose as of now is to give extra attention to those learners that need it, but like I mentioned previously, within the next week or so I will begin to administer assessments. So far, I have really been enjoying the balance between research and office work that I’ve been responsible for, alongside fun afternoons with the learners. I’m eager to see how my responsibilities change and progress throughout the coming weeks.

 

Reflecting on a Summer with the Research Alliance

I still cannot believe how quickly my time with the Research Alliance went by this summer! A couple of weeks ago, I completed my project at the Research Alliance and said goodbye to the team of researchers I had the pleasure of working with throughout the summer. During my last days, I distributed the school evaluation reports I had been working on all summer to principals participating in the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI), an initiative that aims to tackle the achievement gap and increase the number of Black and Latino young men who graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers by using new, creative solutions. After looking through the data from the first year of ESI surveys, I became amazed and inspired by the information provided by students that would be relayed to principals in order for them to improve their school climate and policies. Students’ opinions and perceptions would be heard in a constructive manner – the reports gave them a unified voice and carry an undeniable influence in the shaping of the school climate in the upcoming school year. I truly felt as though I was a messenger between students, policy makers, researchers and principals by conveying the data results and as though I participated in a wave of positive change and improvement throughout New York City’s ESI schools.

In the rest of my time at Brandeis and beyond, I hope to leverage the inspiration I felt from working with the Research Alliance to pursue an academic and career path closely linked to education. This internship certainly reinforced my interest in education policy and research, however I hope to supplement this experience with one that is more clinically oriented to include interaction with students. In the future, I hope to combine my interest in policy, research and face-to-face interaction with students by pursuing a career path in educational psychology – helping to uncover which environments are most conducive to learning and figuring out ways schools can better inspire a love of learning and academic success in their students.

I would undoubtedly recommend interning with the Research Alliance to any student interested in education policy and research. The organization is certainly unique as it conducts rigorous research in the field of education on various topics ranging from high school achievement to contexts that support effective teaching with findings that are often featured in the news. (Read about Research Alliance in the News here.) Furthermore, the organization collaborates with policy makers in the Department of Education while being a part of NYU’s Steinhardt School – making it an academic center that successfully connects theory and practice.

Working on the ESI reports has made me a more skillful and effective problem solver as I came up with solutions to challenges that often arise when working with fresh, new data. The tasks and responsibilities given to me contributed to a fundamental social justice mission of education equity and the warm and welcoming environment makes it all the more enjoyable. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with the group of researchers there, to have been welcomed with open arms and to have been entrusted with such a valuable project. Working with the Research Alliance team and collaborating with NYC’s Department of Education, even for a short time over the summer, was truly a rewarding experience. This experience reinforced my philosophies of social justice and my commitment to pursuing a career that contributes to the greater societal good of children’s well-being and prosperity. Fueled with inspiration from working with the Research Alliance this summer, never before has contributing to efforts that seek to tackle the achievement gap been more of a priority.

 

Six Weeks Later: Hitting A Home Run at My Internship

Federal Court Building, Central Islip, NY (http://aedesign.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/court-1.jpg)

The past six weeks have flown by!  It feels like my program just started, yet, this time next month, everyone will be back at their respective colleges or law schools and the program will be over.  I almost wish that I could slow time down (for some parts of the internship; I am in no hurry to slow down the copy machine- it is slow enough as it is!) because I am really enjoying my time at the US Attorney’s Office – except for the part where I have to wear a suit to work everyday in 95 degree heat!

Before the summer began, my primary goal was to prepare myself for an entry-level position in the legal field when I graduate next year — that’s the goal of any internship I suppose: job preparation.  And while I have gained exposure to legal motions and briefs, and drafted several responses myself, most of the learning that I will take away from this experience will be from observing the Assistant US Attorneys and their routines.  From the outside looking in, being a lawyer calls to mind images of attorneys  experiencing thrilling arguments with their opposing counsel in a courtroom and feeling the euphoria of having their objection sustained – people expect attorneys to spend most of their time standing in front of a jury, and dazzling them with their rhetoric, like on TV shows such as CSI.  In reality, though, what I’ve found is that most of the attorneys I work with spend 90 percent of their time behind their desk preparing for cases that may never make it to trial.

Nevertheless, the office keeps its interns busy — half of the time I enter the office in the morning expecting to work on one project, and finish the day not having done a thing for that project because I was assigned three other priority cases to work on.  Lucky for me, we record all of our assignments on a daily log, which serves as a helpful reminder for what projects we’ve finished and what we still need to do.

I split my time between researching cases in the library, organizing exhibits for trial into binders and boxes in the office and observing or assisting trials in courtrooms.

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Researching cases in the library; one of my fellow interns gave me his old LSAT book (on my right) to help me prepare for the exam when I take it in the fall!

So far, the most fun that I’ve had has been getting to know my fellow interns, most of whom have taken me under their wing and given me tons of advice for law school.  I’m going to miss our lunchtime arguments about which superhero movie series was the best or which team will win the World Series this year.  Just this afternoon, we all played softball against the clerk’s office — it was the Assistant US Attorneys and their paralegals and interns against the judges, court martials and their interns.  Unfortunately, we didn’t stand a chance – nobody expected that federal judges could hit 300 foot fly balls!

As one last note: something that I’ve learned about the legal field in the last six weeks is that detail matters.  If the font on the cover page of the exhibit binders is not the same size for all 4 sets, they need to be redone; you need to cite the jurisdiction for any case that you include in a legal brief, not just the name and the year; and most of all, always remind your superiors to “shake it off” after they strike out at the plate.

– Ricky Rosen ’14

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research centers.  The Institute’s mission is to educate young scientists by integrating them into the research world.  Their Feinberg Graduate School hosts approximately 1,000 graduate students each year from around the world.  The Institute’s labs are wide ranging in the sciences, with scientists working on projects including combating heart disease, cancer, and world hunger.  The Institute also conducts programs for elementary and high school students to work alongside scientists and learn about science careers.  The Weizmann Institute of Science fosters creative collaboration, intellectual curiosity, and equal opportunities in scientific research.

The Weizmann Institute of Science - www.weizmann.ac.il
The Weizmann Institute of Science – www.weizmann.ac.il

During my summer internship at the Weizmann Institute of Science, I will work in the Segal Neuroscience Laboratory, alongside Dr. Menahem Segal as well as his graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.  The work in Dr. Segal’s laboratory is focused on the neuronal basis of long-term memory in the brain.  This work relates to investigating decay of memory systems in the brain, such as Alzheimer’s Disease and mental retardation.  I will assist with several studies investigating the cellular basis of neural plasticity.  I will use live imaging of cultured neurons in a confocal microscope, transfect various plasmids into neurons and test the effects on cell morphology.  I will help assess the results of the studies using various imaging and analysis methods.

During my first week, I learned to use the confocal microscope in order to assess neuronal firing patterns. This microscope has a tiny laser that continually scans the cultured neurons, so I can watch neurons firing in real-time. Once I became acquainted with the microscope and its accompanying computer system, Dr. Segal set me up with Dr. Fisher, a visiting professor, to begin tests on a drug that could be used to reverse the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Fisher believes his drug can target amyloid plaques, tau hyperphosphrylation, and mitochondrial death.

Check out this great video to understand how these cause Alzheimer’s Disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjgBnx1jVIU.

We apply the drug to hippocampus neurons from mice, and observe any changes in firing patterns. Each time the neurons on the screen light up, Dr. Fisher and I jump in our seats, excited to witness this amazing molecular event. With so much unknown about the workings of the brain, it is incredible to be able to watch the most basic principle of the nervous system at work.

An abstract summarizing Dr. Fisher’s can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15989509.

Working on the Confocal Microscope in the Segal Laboratory
Working on the Confocal Microscope in the Segal Laboratory

Dr. Fisher has developed hundreds of drugs in his career, with one currently in use for treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome.  While working with the confocal microscope one day, I asked him about the process of designing a drug, testing it in laboratories, and eventually bringing it into clinical trials. Though lab research can often seem like a tedious endeavor, following a drug from discovery of its molecular mechanisms through clinical success must be an incredible experience.

My goal this summer is to have an active role in the Segal laboratory and find a way to make a difference in these experiments, ultimately improving quality of life for people with Alzeimer’s disease.

– Shoshana Weiner ’14

Week One as a National Consumers League Intern

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This summer, I am interning at the National Consumers League in Washington, D.C. as a Louis D. Brandeis Social Justice WOW Fellow. As America’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, NCL represents consumers and workers on issues including Internet fraud, child labor, and food safety. I discovered this internship through the Hiatt Career Center, and became immediately interested in NCL’s work in promoting international consumer protection and social justice. As a public policy intern, I primarily research public policies relating to consumer fraud. I will also be updating NCL’s websites, drafting content for NCL’s LifeSmarts competition, and helping coordinate meetings of the Alliance Against Fraud organization.

During the past week, I began my first extensive research project on senior fraud. By researching successful senior educational programs and individuals who have passionately argued for more online scam control, I learned about the numerous cases of financial scams specifically targeted at seniors. Although many cases are unreported, seniors are often victims of health care, insurance, telemarketing, Internet, and lottery scams. To gain more knowledge and different perspectives, I attended a roundtable discussion, where Google’s DC Public Policy Manager discussed the company’s interest in improving online safety and technology for older adults. Existing educational programs for online safety have benefited younger generations, but have yet to reach seniors who are more vulnerable to fraud.

U.S. House of Representative Marsha Blackburn
U.S. House of Representative Marsha Blackburn at
“All Eyes on Privacy: Transparency in the New Economy”

I also had the opportunity to attend All Eyes on Privacy: Transparency in the New Economy, an event hosted by Allstate, National Journal, and The Atlantic. Key speakers including U.S. House of Representative Marsha Blackburn and The Honorable Jon Leibowitz discussed their perspectives on the impact of technology and government collection of data on consumer privacy. While some panelists strictly argued that the collection of data was a violation of consumers right to privacy, others saw the government’s decision as a necessity for the protection of the country against potential threats and attacks. According to the Allstate and National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll, the biggest risk associated with data collection was identity theft, one of the biggest concerns associated with senior fraud.

In addition to my research on senior Internet fraud and privacy, I am also studying the impact of high airline cancellation and change fees on consumers. In 2008, airlines began charging consumers to check bags in response to high fuel costs. Since then, airlines started charging consumers with fees on food, drinks, priority boarding, seating arrangements, and extra leg room. Some airlines have even created policies that require overweight passengers to purchase an additional seat. Recently, major airlines have increased ticket change fees from $150 to $200. Airlines are profiting immensely from these fees while consumers continue to struggle to meet the already high airline prices. The government has carried out the three-hour flight delay law to protect consumers from long delays, but has yet to find solutions or alternatives to rising fees.

I am impressed by NCL’s over 100 years of advocacy and the positive changes NCL has made in many lives. This past week has been a truly new experience attending conferences and events. Fellow interns and I had a wonderful time helping out at NCL’s Child Labor Awareness Film Event, where we revealed some of the brutal conditions children are forced to work under. Many children sacrifice their education in order to support their families. I was once again reminded of my responsibility to make efforts to eliminate child labor internationally. I strongly believe that every child deserves an education, and I am proud to say that I am part of an organization that provides opportunities and protection for underprivileged children, seniors, and consumers. For the next upcoming months, I desire to use my international experiences and leadership skills to learn how to accentuate the rights of consumers and workers using public policies by performing detailed and through research and gaining first hand experiences at hearings and conferences.

Fellow interns and I (middle) at the
Child Labor Awareness Film Event

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 10 Without a Tick Incident

This summer I am conducting environmental research under the guidance of Professor Eric Olson at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The Heller School focuses on utilizing interdisciplinary research, with public engagement, to respond to an ever-changing society.

After several meetings with Professor Olson last semester, we created a project focusing on gathering baseline data of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) nymph population within the town of Weston, Massachusetts. It is critical to collect this data now because Weston legalized deer hunting last July. One of the many justifications for this legislation was that by controlling the deer population, there should be a gradual decline in the tick population. Decreasing the tick population is important since this would reduce the instance of diseases like Lyme disease and Babesiosis.

In preparation for this research, Professor Olson and I traveled to the University of Rhode Island to meet with Dr. Thomas Mather, the Director of URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center. Dr. Mather has been conducting tick based research and promoting tick-bite awareness for more than 20 years. His experience made him the ideal person to discuss our proposed research with. Beyond meeting with Professor Olson and me, Dr. Mather allowed us to be trained with the rest of his team. Under the guidance of Jason LaPorte, a research assistant at the TickEncounter Resource Center, Professor Olson and I were taught how to flag for ticks and how to keep the ticks that have been collected alive for later studies. This training has been invaluable and an incredible start to the summer.

Most people would think that field research would involve something like trekking through a tropical rainforest with huge backpacks of supplies. Or maybe, they think of a massive sailboat in the middle of the ocean with various pieces of large equipment for taking samples. I on the other hand, was shown that research could begin in a place as bizarre as a fabric store. Using these supplies, and the URI training, I was able to make the flags and vials for collecting ticks (see below).

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Through this research, I hope to prepare myself for a career in environmental research. I have completed several other field research projects, though none have been quite as extensive as this research. Completing a project that spans multiple months will help me confirm that field research is a realistic career. Furthermore, I plan on applying my lab knowledge by processing the ticks for the diseases mentioned above. The prevalence of tick-borne illness is commonly debated; by testing the ticks collected (more than 200 have been collected in less then a week of field work), I will be able to make a more accurate estimation of the prevalence of diseases within Weston.  By combining field and lab techniques, the research will be more comprehensive and thorough.

For more information on Weston’s Deer Management Program, please visit: bit.ly/14z1pAg

I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start.

– Adam Krebs ’14

The Countdown & Completion of My Summer 2012 Internship

I have officially begun the countdown until I leave Israel, and although I will miss it dearly, I look forward to returning back to Brandeis. My most important learning goal this summer was to strengthen my skills in research, specifically clinical research. I was able to do this by contributing to two literature reviews on preventive interventions for dealing with violence and trauma. With the goal of eventually working toward my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, gaining this experience was crucial for my career development, and went much beyond my previous experience. I surpassed my original expectations because instead of doing one literature review, I ended up working on two. I was also given the opportunity to help out with a study on designing an intervention for building resilience for at-risk youth, the latter being one of the populations I eventually want to focus on as a psychologist. This has given me insight into cultures other than America and Israel, which was not exactly one of my original learning goals but nevertheless appreciated.

Photo Credit: Traumaweb.org

I am also learning more about evaluating the work of other psychologists, by observing my mentors here in real-time.

The work I have done at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma this summer will fuel the rest of my time at Brandeis. Specifically, it will put me in “research mode” as preparation for my Honor’s Thesis. It will also inform my academic work as I take courses in the areas I have researched this summer.

There is still a lot left to learn before I am prepared for the next step in my career. I want to gain more experience in research, which I will be able to do with my Honor’s Thesis this year; I also want do get more hands-on work with a clinical population, especially children, adolescents, first responders, and others affected by trauma. Whether working at a medical facility or with children in general, I know that to truly engage myself in this field, I must engage it at all levels, not just research.

For anyone interested in interning at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, I commend you for your decision to volunteer, and think you will have a blast. The Center does, however, get very busy with many projects. I would therefore advise interested students to research the Center’s work first, which can be viewed here. Once there, see if there is any program or type of work (i.e. research) that most interests you. Then contact one of the psychologists, someone in public affairs, or send them an e-mail. (Contact page located here). Keep trying if you do not hear back at first. And before you reach out, also think about one main project you can focus on. Every volunteer is required to contribute sometime to PR, but the rest can be decided by you and the staff members. While at the Center, I would definitely try to check out the various “Units” of the Center. You will learn not only about trauma and resilience, but all the different ways one can contribute through research, programs, therapy, marketing, and more.

Photo Credit: Traumaweb.org

– Rocky Reichman ’13