This summer working on the Ultrasound Elasticity Imaging Laboratory of Columbia University (UEIL) has been an amazing experience. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to make my summer during this strange time a productive one. I have certainly achieved a lot more things than I hoped for. Helping in the development of such an interesting research was truly an incredible way to invest my time and energy in, while at the same time improve myself as a scientist.
One of the reasons I wanted to pursue an internship this summer was that I wanted to experience working in a lab setting, in order to decide if that could be a viable career path for me. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was not able to physically be in the lab. Consequently, I did not get the chance to perform experiments in person or practice using lab equipment. Despite these difficulties, I had the opportunity to study how to analyze data and I became proficient in MATLAB. I learned how to write my own algorithms, which most of the time is a rather creative job.
During this internship, I was required to work on my own, which taught me some crucial skills about working independently, but made me realize that I really enjoy being part of a team and collaborating with other people. This summer, I also cultivated my ability to set goals and manage my time accordingly in order to achieve them. Through this experience, I learned more about myself and my abilities, but I’m set on a course to challenge myself even more.
To anyone interested in pursuing an internship at the UIEL lab in the future, I would say that you should be ready to work hard and dedicate a lot of their time into this research. Another piece of advice I would like to pass on is the importance of finding a balance between struggling by trying to work through the difficulties on your own and asking for help. By forcing yourself into a situation where you have to think a problem through by yourself, you’re enhancing your critical thinking skills and challenging yourself. That way you learn to research and think outside the box when it comes to finding solutions to your problems. Some more advice I would like to share, is that you should make sure you are interested in the research of the lab you choose to work with because researching and studying about the lab’s research will take most of your time as an intern.
I am beyond thrilled to have worked for the UEIL lab and I am proud of my accomplishments this summer. Contributing to the prestigious research of this lab was something I was not expecting to be able to achieve in such a short amount of time. All those months of preparation, learning MATLAB on my own, and studying research papers were worth every second of my time.
This internship has been a great experience during a very challenging time. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to contribute to the prestigious research of the Ultrasound Elasticity Imaging Laboratory (UEIL) of Columbia University. I am thankful that I was able to pursue an online internship this summer, especially considering that most internships were cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak. So far, this experience was drastically different than I had imagined. It taught me how to think like a researcher and it gave me an idea of what it’s really like to work in a lab. Additionally, this online experience enhanced independent work, which was something I wanted to get more comfortable with, since I never had the opportunity to work outside of a team setting.
Real life problems (especially in science) don’t always have solutions and it usually takes years to discover a method or a drug that works the desired way. Being part of an overall research but doing something very specific was an interesting experience for me. In college, the knowledge we acquire is organized and packaged within a well thought out curriculum. The questions that we encounter, for the most part, have been already answered. In research, there is an infinite amount of unanswered questions for scientists to explore. One of the things I found hard was to select which question I was going to investigate as well as working towards this goal, while at the same time being on track with everyone else in the lab.
While working, I had the opportunity to observe the lab meetings and listen to the progress of various individual projects from people with a higher education level than mine, something that really opened up my mind. Even without being able to physically be in the lab, I have learned many valuable things the past four weeks. Most importantly, I acquired programming skills, which are a fundamental knowledge for every science field. For example, programming (Matlab and R) will surely be a useful skill to have for future internships and jobs, or master and PhD programs. Pretty early on, I realized that in a lab setting, while trying to answer the bigger question, secondary questions will arise, and you are expected to come up with your own answers through your research. This was something that I found very challenging, but it helped me be more independent, the importance of which I cannot emphasize enough. I was also asked to present my work weekly, which helped me develop my presentation skills, taught me how to organize and convey my thoughts, and how to use feedback and constructive criticism to progress. Those meetings also kept me on track with my goals for the summer. So far, I have gained very useful skills from this experience, which I hope I will further improve in the remaining time in the lab. I am looking forward to continue exploring my abilities and learning throughout this summer.
Ultrasound Elasticity Imaging Laboratory (UEIL) is part of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University and it is also one of the biggest labs in its field of ultrasound. https://ueil.bme.columbia.edu/ It has approximately 30 people from different educational levels in its employ. The UEIL works on developing novel, ultrasound-based techniques for both imaging and therapeutic applications. The main areas of focus at the time include drug delivery to the brain by opening the blood-brain barrier (BBB) using focused ultrasound, mapping the mechanical and electromechanical properties of the heart, harmonic motion imaging, pulse wave imaging, and neuromodulation.
During this internship, I will start by processing images of the skull microstructure. Figure 1 is a binary image of the skull microstructure that I created. This internship requires me to become proficient in Matlab, read research papers in order to understand preexisting information and form questions that are relevant to the goal of this research. The goal of my project is to extract valuable information for the skull microstructure such as its porosity, the number of pores and their size, and its density.
When we are dealing with Focused Ultrasound in the brain either for imaging or therapeutic purposes, the biggest obstacle we have to overcome is the skull. The reason is that it makes it difficult to pass the ultrasonic wave through. Studying the skull microstructure will enable us to see how it impacts the wave propagation. This information helps the focused ultrasound work more precisely, something crucial in terms of BBB opening or ultrasound therapy in the brain.
This internship will help me to achieve the goals I have set for myself. In the world of science, programming is the most essential tool to conduct research. An important goal for me is to learn how to analyze data in Matlab. In order to do that, I will have to also learn the different methods of collecting data and the use of appropriate controls. Another reason I decided to do an internship in a research lab is that I believe it will help me decide if I want to pursue this career. Two months might be a short time period, but it will certainly get me a bit closer in setting my future goals even through this online interaction.
Lastly, working on a team has always been a way for me to be more productive and to gain inspiration. However, this internship will require me to work independently, solve challenging questions, while also coming up with new questions to solve. Through weekly progress meetings, the other interns and I will have the opportunity to learn details about each other’s projects, gain a better understanding of the bigger picture, and have all the support we need. Overall, this internship will help me achieve my main goal which is allowing myself to struggle and find ways to overcome those challenges on my own.