The Record

Students conduct science research

Students engage in science research outside of the school after an extensive process of finding a lab in medical centers, universities, and other private institutions, and reflect on their experiences in the world of science.

Sandhya Shyam, Staff Writer

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Instead of going away to sleepaway camp or visiting another country, Aurora Grutman (12) spent her summer researching cocaine addiction and its possible treatments.

Grutman, like several other Upper Division students, chose to participate in summer research. She conducted research through a seven week program at Rockefeller University and considered it a “unique and immersive experience” that made her a better student and scientific researcher, she said.

Summer research is a great opportunity for students who are passionate about science and want to see real world research being done at a collegiate level, Summer Research Coordinator Dr. Christine Leo said.

“I think high school is the time to try things out and see if you like it,” she said. “So I often tell students to find a program that’s intriguing to them; they don’t necessarily have to do that when they grow up, but they should try it.”

Leo helps students interested in conducting research find a summer program that works for them because there are several types of programs and all are varied, she said. However, finding a program is ultimately the responsibility of the students.

“It’s often hard for high school students to find opportunities in labs that work well for them because of relative inexperience in labs,” Science Department Head Dr. Stephen Palfrey said.

Jeren Wei (11), who interned in a microbiology lab at Columbia University’s Medical Center during the summer, emailed about 40 college professors and researchers from different medical institutions and universities, he said. “I was very persistent in finding a research opportunity. In the middle of May, three researchers responded with available positions: one from Stanford and two from Columbia,” he said.

Richard Hausman (11) participated in the summer research program at Rockefeller University to see if he would be interested in working in the scientific field in the future, he said. Hausman researched protein degradation in fruit flies, and while he enjoyed doing labs in class, he does not think they compare to an actual lab environment, he said.

“When you’re doing labs in class, there is a clear objective, outcome, and steps to get there. I wanted to get more comfortable in designing experiments on my own and also learn how to compile and analyze the data,” Hausman said.

Doing research is time consuming, Grutman said. “It would be extremely disappointing for me when I’d spend hours doing a certain experiment and not get any results, but that’s how research actually is.”

Arjun Khorana (12), who worked at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) over the summer, wanted to do research outside the lab, he said. “A lot of what we do in school is basic science research and wet lab, so I wanted to get an experience working in the clinical side of research, which is more patient focused,” he said.

Khorana worked on two projects. In the first project, conducted by Dr. Sheeraz Qureshi, Khorana compared two different questionnaires given to spinal patients after their visits to see which one was better at assessing how a patient felt.

“It gave me a new perspective on research,” Khorana said. “I was able to impact the scientific community without being in the standard white lab coat and goggles.”

Later, Khorana was approached by two medical students who asked him to work with them on a project focused on patient referral, he said.

Khorana and his colleagues are currently trying to publish their work and submit it to an international conference, he said. “It’s not necessarily difficult to get your work accepted, but to get accepted into a reputable source,” he said.

Madison Li (10) learned how to develop a project, conduct different forms of research, and format a study into a formal paper over this past summer, she said. “Some other skills I learned were time management and collaborating with other people.”

Li researched the chemical beta-caryophyllene’s possible role as a treatment for Psoriasis, an autoimmune disease. This topic was proposed to her by her mentor, who was originally a family friend. Her mentor paired her up with a rising senior girl from another school and the two worked on the experiment every Saturday beginning in January, Li said.

For Li, the problem arose when summer came and she was expected to work in the lab every day. “I was doing Summer Chemistry at the school, so I could only work on the research during weekends,” she said. “Because of that, we barely managed to finish in time. Thankfully, my partner and I worked really well together.”

Having started the project in January, Li had a very different experience doing research during the school year compared to in the summer. “It was definitely harder for me to work on the research during the school year than during the summer, when I had more time to work on it at home as well,” Li said. “However, since we had more time in the summer, the work was more intensive than the weekly lab work last school year.”

Li plans to enter her project into the Siemen’s competition and other competitions, she said.

Wei is continuing his research into the school year. “It’s been difficult for me to make progress,” he said. “I can’t go into the lab on weekends, but on weekdays after school I have water polo practice until six. I’ve had no time to work on my research since school has started.”

Since Wei was initially unfamiliar with the lab, he worked on other people’s research projects for the first few weeks, he said. “I was assigned to do menial tasks such as cleaning lab equipment,” Wei said. “However, I eventually asked my PI if I could work on my own project, and after much consideration, she let me.”

Khorana was appointed his projects, but he was given a lot of freedom in doing them, he said. “I was given access to all the medical records at HSS, I had my own account, and the way I wanted to organize the research was all me – I created the data sets and chose how to analyze them.”

Hausman recommends students to do research only if they truly want to be more knowledgeable, he said. “You shouldn’t be doing it just to add to your resume.”

“Students shouldn’t be doing research in order to do better in a class,” Palfrey said. “It should be because they want to know more about science.”

“There are so many advantages to summer research,” Grutman said. “I come from a family where literally no one is a scientist, but I got fantastic mentors who showed me the ropes and are great role models. I know I can go back to them with any questions I have about designing experiments in the future, and they’re amazing connections to the scientific community.”

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Students conduct science research