Grants fund students’ summer research experiences

Students from the College of Arts & Sciences are taking advantage of enriching summer research experiences, thanks to the donations of generous alumni, whose gifts help students pay for living and travel expenses when they accept low paying or unpaid positions.

In Baltimore, Chris Zobek ’20 wakes up early to get to the National Aquarium by 7:30 a.m. and hang out with more than 200 dart frogs.

A biology major concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology, Zobek wanted an internship that would give him experience working with live animals – his research on campus has been with the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates, which includes specimens but not live animals.

At the aquarium, his jobs differ each day, from misting and feeding the dart frogs, to cleaning back animal areas to shadowing other scientists and staff members.

“Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store, when I get to have direct interaction with the animals,” Zobek said. “And the staff here has done a great job of letting me see all of the other departments.”

One of his most memorable experience has been feeding the waxy monkey frogs — “They’re not the smartest. You actually have to poke them in the face with a cricket to get them to eat it, and then they lunge at your hand.”

Zobek, who’s from New Jersey, said he’s used the Summer Experience Grant money to help pay for housing this summer.

He’s hoping the summer experience will help him decide whether to go into research or lab work or look for some sort of aquarium or museum job after he graduates next year.

Sneha Sharma at the Broad Institute

Sneha Sharma '21 is working as a computational biology intern at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard on the Genotype Tissue Expression (GTEx) Project this summer.

The project is striving to build a comprehensive public resource to study tissue-specific gene expression and regulation — Sharma is using machine learning to make the process of RNA sequencing more effective and efficient.

The internship allows her to perfectly blend her interests in biology and computer science, Sharma said.

“I have followed the work being done at the Broad and continue to be inspired by their outstanding faculty and groundbreaking research,” she said. “When I saw the opportunity to learn from and contribute to a group conducting such impactful and inspiring projects, I jumped at the chance to apply.”

She said the internship has allowed her to work with premier computational biology technologies and leaders in the field, as well as live in the Cambridge/Boston Area, a hub of events focused on biotechnology.

“In the past month alone, I've attended a free conference on the role of artificial intelligence in precision medicine at Harvard Medical School, a mentoring lunch with the past associate director and chief informatics officer at the Broad, and a Code for Boston hackathon that addressed local and civic challenges through creative uses of technology,” she said.

Brianna Montalvo '20, an astronomy major, is spending the summer working as a research assistant in the astronomy department doing extragalactic astronomy work under Professor Martha Haynes

"It's been an exciting challenge learning about galaxies and their environments, while developing my programming skills," she said. "I also got to meet and work with other students, undergrad and grad, who study astronomy from all across the world." Montalvo's summer experience funding helped her pay for housing in Ithaca this summer.

The Summer Experience Grants, which students can use to cover living and travel expenses when they are taking unpaid or minimally-paid positions, are available to students thanks to funding from the Student Assembly and to donations from a group of generous Arts & Sciences alumni, who understand the need to support students as they explore career possibilities. This year, 181 students applied for funding and 117 grants were awarded.

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 Chris Zobek at the National Aquarium