MSFHR-sponsored internships provide teens with health research experience

16 October 2014

Blog post by Sherel Loo; video by Chelsea Noel

This summer marked MSFHR’s fifth consecutive year of supporting Shad Valley’s annual enrichment program, designed for students in grades 10, 11, and 12 with an interest in science, technology, engineering, math and entrepreneurship.

Students who are accepted into the program spend four weeks living on campus at one of 12 leading Canadian universities. During that time, they participate in workshops and lectures that are academically stimulating, as well as team-building exercises and recreational activities to ensure a balanced experience. In short, it’s a fantastic combination of hard work and play.

Not just anyone can participate in the program. A typical student demonstrates high academic achievement, exceptional drive, initiative, creativity, and entrepreneurial flair.

For the second time, I had the pleasure of attending UBC’s open house in July. The open house is held on the last day of the Shad program and includes a project showcase, luncheon, and variety show. Students were tasked with designing a new product or service in line with this year’s theme: “Living Large with a Small Footprint”.

Shad students were asked to consider how changing values and dwindling resources are changing what “the good life” looks like. Their creative projects were showcased on this day to their peers, visiting parents and friends, and supporters of Shad.

While most students return home to enjoy the rest of summer, a select few get the additional opportunity to complete an internship. This year, my colleagues Rashmita Salvi and Michelle Ng paired Amy Han and Robyn Lee with two MSFHR Scholars.

Upon getting to know Robyn and Amy, I quickly saw the value of these internships. Both students were exposed to new experiences outside classroom walls, and it was clear they were intrigued by health research. A seed has been planted in these bright, young students, and they may eventually pursue a career in science or health research.

Below is a brief summary of their internship experiences.

Amy Han

Amy HanHigh school: West Vancouver Secondary School
Internship supervisor: Dr. Amori Mikami, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia

Amy was thrilled when she learned about her internship. Having gone through what she considered a transformational experience at Shad Waterloo, she was keen to continue that momentum. Amy always had an interest in the human mind and mental health, so this internship was a good fit. She was also hoping to get exposure on how research is done in a university lab setting.

Amori’s current study involves helping parents of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) make friends. Children with ADHD have a particularly challenging time making good, close friendships. Because the interactions between Amori and her participants (parents, kids and teachers) happen during the school year, the summer months are spent processing the data. Amy was therefore instrumental in helping Amori process the data collected from the first cohort of families. This included observing and recording the parents’ behaviours towards their kids, their interactions with each other, what the kids said about themselves, and what their teachers said about them.

Because this is a new study, Amy had an opportunity to provide input on how best to capture and categorize the data. The summarized results then helped illustrate similarities and differences between parents and their kids, giving Amori’s team a better understanding of the data.

This internship exceeded Amy’s expectations. She saw firsthand how much data can be required for a research study, how the data is processed, and what programs and methods are used. She also got the chance to experience everything behind-the-scenes and gained insights into what a health research career could look like — something you don’t get a flavour of in a high school classroom setting.

“I’ve never seen kids with ADHD firsthand, so it was really eye-opening being able to watch them interact with their parents. I would then code their behaviours, tones, and approaches accordingly. What I found even more interesting was seeing parents teach their kids strategies on how to make friends as well as how to maintain those relationships.”

>> Amy Han

Robyn Lee

Robyn LeeHigh school: Burnaby Mountain Secondary School
Internship supervisor: Dr. Jodi Viljoen, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University

Lab coats and pipettes. That’s what came to Robyn’s mind when she found out she landed an internship in a health research lab. Little did she know, her time with Jodi would be far from that.

During her stint in Jodi’s lab, Robyn was exposed to many new things. For starters, Jodi introduced her to the clinical tools and measures her team uses in their research to examine mental disorders in adolescents and health-related outcomes such as violence, victimization and self-harm. While these tools typically take Jodi’s undergrads a couple of months to learn, she was impressed with Robyn’s ability to grasp key concepts in one day. As part of the practical component, Robyn used these tools to perform some of the mental health screening inventories — a comprehensive measure of mental health and personality, a violence risk assessment tool for adolescents, and an adolescent treatment guide.

In addition to learning the clinical tools and measures, and developing research questions, Robyn job shadowed Jodi and her grad students, giving her the opportunity to learn more about research methodology, data analysis, and what drew the various team members to health research. Robyn prepared a conference poster based on some of her data analysis and returned to SFU last month to present the results of her project to the team.

“As part of Robyn’s mini research project, I had her develop her own research questions. I was particularly impressed with her ideas because she was able to provide an adolescent lens to our research. I thought this was a good way to expose Robyn to our research and to teach her what research methodology in health sciences is all about.”

>> Jodi Viljoen