Science internships valuable, but should be awarded to right students

March 10, 2012 — by Aasim Naqvi

This time of year, dozens of students set out to find a place to spend their 10 weeks of summer vacation immersed in science.

Many try to catch on at university labs working with professors on projects like finding a cure to Parkinson’s disease or isolating a certain gene.

The challenge, of course, is that these spots are few and the competition is intense. The other issue is that universities often overlook what should be the most important factor in deciding which students to accept for internships: their legitimate interest in the subjects being researched.

Science research in high school is a noble cause for any student truly interested in the subject being researched, but should not be impersonally done just so that the student can “put it on my college app.”

These programs generally range from six to eight weeks and usually include learning different lab techniques, learning the basics in a given field and giving a presentation about the performed research.

A student with a personal connection to a given disease would have very good justification in applying to such an internship. In the current system, a student with slightly better grades can beat out the former simply due to his or her GPA.

For example, a student with a family member with Parkinson’s disease obviously has a much stronger interest than a student who has never heard of the disease. Factors like this should play a bigger part in determining who receives an internship.

There are thousands of qualified students who apply to science internships every spring. From this large pool, how many actually are interested in extracting and analyzing cancerous cells? How many actually care if a new treatment for diabetes is discovered? The answers to these questions are what should be dissected from applications.

In addition to simply asking why a student wants to receive the given internship, the application should ask pointed questions about what a student knows about the subject, how they know it and specifically what is driving them to learn more about it. The applications should ask questions that demand these answers.

At the end of the day, internships are fantastic opportunities for students to learn more about science from an outside-of-school perspective. However, the tradition of awarding these internships to the most “numerically” qualified students must come to an end.

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