This fall, the BIO5 Ambassadors Internship adapted its traditional in-person mentoring program to provide three University of Arizona undergraduates with a virtual experience that will benefit them for years to come.
The yearlong BIO5 Ambassadors Internship immerses undergraduate students in the business side of science by working on the BIO5 Institute's public affairs team that supports a world-class research institution. Interns are paired with a mentor and work on various projects in events and programming, social media, graphic design, and science communication. Interns also attend weekly professional development workshops led by staff working in administrative and operations roles within BIO5.
Jorey Cohen, Anish Raju and Jennifer Scott were chosen from a competitive pool of 24 applicants to be part of this unique take on science not taught in a lecture hall or at the lab bench. Following their acceptances in August, the three interns selected mentors, identified projects of interest, and began working to fulfill goals through personalized internships.
Over the course of this semester, Cohen, Raju and Scott gained insight into the non-research aspects of science through projects related to science writing, BIO5’s KEYS Research Internship and video production. They also learned more about a wide range of topics including executing a successful outreach program and supporting one’s mental health while pursuing professional goals.
Combining research and personal experiences to tell a story
When she was accepted for the Ambassadors internship, neuroscience and molecular & cellular biology senior Jorey Cohen wasn’t quite sure about her future career plans – but that’s exactly why she applied. As an ambassador, Cohen knew she would be able to explore different STEM careers that didn’t necessarily involve traditional research.
When she was diagnosed with celiac disease a few years ago, Cohen became passionate about helping herself and others pursue health in their own unique ways. Thus, she sought part-time employment as a content editor with URockGirl, an online platform geared towards empowering women of all ages with information to improve their health and well-being.
Combining more than four years of experience as a content editor for the health and wellness platform with the joy she feels when picking the brains of researchers, Cohen sought a mentor who could teach her more about effective science communication: Dr. Brittany Uhlorn, Coordinator of Marketing and Communications.
The budding writer chose to write a feature story on a BIO5 researcher, Dr. Purnima Madhivanan, not only to highlight her impactful research and clinical work in women’s health, but to illuminate Dr. Madhivanan’s personal story.
“I chose this project because I was looking forward to sharing insight about a BIO5 member that I couldn’t find online,” she said. “I had never written a science-focused piece for a general audience before, so I was ecstatic to dive headfirst and learn from Brittany.”
Now having completed her first journalistic piece, Cohen says she has genuinely enjoyed seeing the whole process of writing a story from start to finish.
“It’s really made me appreciate the whole process,” she reflects. “I didn’t realize how much time and effort went into these pieces.”
The intern admits the journey hasn’t been easy. While she breezed through collecting background information and interviewing, Cohen was intimidated when she finally sat down to write the first draft.
“Starting with a blank document was the hardest part, but it’s also been the most rewarding,” she said. “It gives you the ability to really bring the researcher’s story to life.”
Cohen’s mentor, Uhlorn, was not only inspired by how her intern took the reins of her project to produce a compelling story but how effortlessly she developed fascinating story ideas.
“Jorey’s inquisitiveness helped me to look at my work in a new light, ultimately bettering the way I interview scientists and tell their stories in my articles,” Uhlorn said. “Her enthusiasm also reminded me why I traded my pipet for a pen and paper and pursued science communication after completing my doctorate!”
Having dipped her toes into the world of science communication this semester, Cohen plans to take full advantage of the Ambassadors program by pairing up with a new mentor in the spring.
“I feel very honored to have been given the opportunity to collaborate and learn from esteemed professionals and peers this semester,” Cohen said. “I’m looking forward to what the spring semester will bring.”
KEYS experience comes full circle for Ambassadors intern
As a sophomore in high school, a shy, yet bright, Anish Raju tackled a challenging pharmacology project as a student in BIO5’s KEYS Research Internship program. KEYS opened Raju’s eyes to a world of research opportunities that weren’t just limited to the laboratory bench.
Now a bioinformatics sophomore at UArizona, Raju is inspiring subsequent cohorts of KEYS students under the mentorship of program coordinators Kelle Hyland and Brooke Moreno.
“Being able to work with Brooke and Kelle through the Ambassadors internship is truly the best opportunity possible,” he said. “I’ve always admired their ability to seamlessly manage KEYS, and I’m happy to be able to give back to the program that opened my eyes to a world of opportunity.”
Because they remembered his shy side when Raju was a KEYS student, Raju shocked the team when he chose to refine content for and give virtual KEYS recruitment presentations to high school classrooms around the state this fall. According to Hyland, Raju’s engaging, professional presentations have exceeded her expectations.
Both Hyland and Moreno agree that the addition of Raju to their KEYS team couldn’t be a more perfectly timed or paired match.
“He’s an alum, so he knows the KEYS story better than anyone else,” Moreno said.
“Anish’s close connection to high school is something special that Brooke and I can’t provide to prospective students,” Hyland added. “He’s at this perfect time in his life to be doing this kind of engagement.”
Despite COVID-19, the KEYS program successfully transitioned its in-person summer internship to a virtual experience that emphasized data science. As next year’s internship will also be similarly structured, Hyland and Moreno are grateful for Raju’s expertise in bioinformatics.
“Seeing him come into his own is just a privilege for us,” Hyland said. “We usually don’t get to interact with the KEYS students very much after their time in the program, so we are grateful to not only see how much he’s grown since KEYS, but also how much he’s grown during the Ambassadors internship.”
As recruitment comes to a close, Raju plans to continue his internship next semester with the KEYS program, aiming to provide an “insider’s perspective” on the program to enhance the virtual experience in 2021.
Getting to the heart of the Ambassadors program
Public health junior Jennifer Scott has her eyes set on a career in hospital management. Scott viewed the Ambassadors program as the perfect opportunity to gain skills necessary to excel in multiple aspects of her future job, including event planning and communicating with researchers, clinicians, donors and patients.
She also applied to the program because she was looking for an experience that would push her intellectual and creative limits to build resilience for future challenges.
“I wanted to challenge myself and be uncomfortable with not being the best at something and having to tolerate that,” she said.
To speak to the event planning and outreach aspects of her desired career, Scott chose to work with events coordinator, Elena Rodriguez. Instead of a semester-long project, Scott selected to spend most of the academic year planning and executing an Ambassadors highlight video. Scott’s video will include candid reflections from ambassadors, including details on why they applied, what they learned, and how it’s benefitted their career trajectories.
Because her project includes video editing and graphic design, Scott has also benefited from working with senior graphic designer Deanna Sanchez and graphic artist Brianna Doyle.
Scott has been incredibly grateful for both the professional mentorship provided by Rodriguez and their personal connection.
“Elena and I have very similar personalities and working styles, so it’s easy to communicate and coordinate with one another,” Scott said. “I also really admire Elena’s positive outlook on life’s many challenges, including how we’ve had to transition many things online this year.”
Rodriguez is likewise grateful for her mentee. Scott’s “I want to try everything” attitude inspires the events coordinator, and she’s especially touched by the personal and professional partnership they’ve built.
“I love that whenever I talk to Jen, she’s always looking for more to help me with,” Rodriguez said. “She’s always ready to help and encourage me in everything I do.”
Scott will continue her video project this spring, as well as be an asset to Rodriguez and the events team as they plan and execute a yearlong celebration of BIO5’s 20th year anniversary.