Shad Valley internships help teens build research skills

18 September 2013

For the fourth consecutive year, MSFHR is proud to partner with Shad Valley to support the placement of outstanding high school students in research programs at BC universities.

The four-week Shad Valley program provides summer enrichment opportunities to some of Canada’s best and the brightest students. This year, more than 600 students had the opportunity to live on campus at one of 12 Canadian universities and take part in a wide variety of workshops and lectures focused on the sciences, engineering, technology, and entrepreneurship. Students who are accepted through the competitive application process demonstrate high academic achievement, exceptional drive, initiative, creativity, and leadership in diverse pursuits, including athletics, the arts, and work and volunteer experience.

While the program is academically based, it is also full of fun activities, team-building, and recreation to ensure a balanced experience.

Following the enrichment program, students can apply to take part in an optional internship. This year, MSFHR’s support enabled three students to gain valuable hands-on experience working alongside established BC researchers.

Preet Shoker (Princess Margaret Secondary School), Mica Grant Hagen (Frances Kelsey Secondary School), and Shanna Yeung (Point Grey Secondary School) each spent four weeks building their research skills and gaining valuable insight into a career in science.

Highlights of their experiences are described below.

Preet Shoker

High school: Princess Margaret Secondary School (Surrey, BC)
Internship supervisor: Dr. Ivan Robert Nabi, Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences, UBC

As an avid viewer of science-themed shows like CSI and with a personal interest in biology, Preet Shoker was excited to work with cancer cells first hand in Dr. Ivan Robert Nabi’s lab. She had the opportunity to work alongside PhD student Ray Meng, whose research project is focused on understanding how a cell membrane protein (caveolin-1) regulates the movement of prostate cancer cells.

Shoker was given the task of transfecting the cells with florescent-tagged proteins and then using a specialized microscope to take movies of the proteins to track cell movements in real time. She also spent time monitoring the distribution of the proteins on the cells by taking pictures of the fixed cell samples using the same microscope.

At the end of the internship, Nabi and Meng presented Shoker with a video of how cells operate in real time as a tangible reminder of her accomplishments during the program.

“I just wanted Preet to have fun in the lab. I wanted her to know about science. I wanted her to know how cool biology is. And I think we accomplished that.”

>> Ray Meng

Mica Grant Hagen

Mica Grant HagenHigh school: Frances Kelsey Secondary School (Mill Bay, BC)
Internship supervisor: Dr. Laura Cowen, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Victoria

Mica Grant Hagen approached her internship with Dr. Laura Cowen uncertain of what to expect, but knowing the internship would provide a perfect opportunity to gain valuable work experience. Fast forward a month and Grant Hagen is happy to report that the internship proved highly enjoyable while helping her build research skills.

For the first half, she worked with graduate student Paul van Dam-Bates on a sea cucumbers project. Grant Hagen was tasked with getting photos of the cucumbers into a document so that van am-Bates could develop a simulated capture-recapture experiment where cucumbers are photo-identified based on their spot patterns and colours.

She also received an overview from Cowen of the R programming language, a free and reliable software environment used by researchers in many disciplines for statistical computing and graphics. Cowen believes that regardless of what Grant Hagen pursues academically, this newfound skill will be beneficial. Grant Hagen added to her understanding of the R language by attending some of Cowen’s directed studies lectures, as this would help her with some of the models Cowen tasked her with.

“Although I am planning on majoring in engineering at university, I will probably take some statistics courses. Having learned these new skills from Laura, I’m interested in expanding my horizons and seeing what the world of statistics can teach me, even if it’s just a few courses.”

>> Mica Grant Hagen

Shanna Yeung

Shanna YeungHigh school: Point Grey Secondary School (Vancouver, BC)
Internship supervisor: Dr. Jason Barton, Department of Medicine, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, UBC; 2003 MSFHR Senior Scholar

The chance to intern in a lab was a pleasant surprise for Shanna Yeung.

“It’s such a rare opportunity for high school students that I was honoured to have been chosen,” she said.

During her month-long placement in the lab of UBC researcher Dr. Jason Barton, Yeung worked closely with master’s student Cristina Rubino. Under Rubino’s guidance, the two undertook a project that analyzed eye movements in healthy participants. The participants were cued to direct their eyes either towards a target (known as a pro-saccade) or in the opposite direction of a target (known as an anti-saccade). It is known that anti-saccades cause a delay in eye movements made in the following trial, important evidence of a type of cognitive control. The main goal of Yeung’s project was to determine if this controlling delay was caused by execution of the anti-saccade, or even just the mere planning of it.

Now that all the data is collected, Yeung’s next task is to help analyze it. Even though the official portion of the internship is finished, Barton and Rubino are bringing Yeung back to assist with the analysis, including the cleansing, labelling, and categorizing of the data.

“I wanted Shanna to see science as a creative and social endeavour — that’s the fun part, and is what attracts most of us to science. With the help of my graduate students Cristina and Jaya, this self-contained project gave Shanna the opportunity to take control from start to finish, and I will be giving her the right of first refusal to write the paper if she’s interested.”

>> Dr. Jason Barton