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Internship 3: An Intern who got into Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford

Internship 3: An Intern who got into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford

By James H. Choi

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To Sabio Parents,

This time I would like to introduce an intern success case. JS started preparing for an internship in 11th grade, rather late, by learning data analysis with Mathematica (a computer language). He finished two introductory courses (the only courses available then) and then flew from Virginia to Chicago to start a summer internship at Dr. Konopka’s clinic.


Front: JS’ mentor: Meagan Hauser
Behind: Graphs that JS created

Dr. Konopka is a biological psychologist who examines the human mind not by behavior but by brain activities. In other words, if traditional psychologists were focused on the results (behaviors), biological psychologists are interested in the causes (brain processes). This Biological Psychology is a relatively new field that came into existence only after it became possible to look into live human brain activities through SPECT, PET, fMRI and EEG. Being new, Biological psychology has more unknowns than knowns. Technology-driven, this biology produces data daily, far faster than the researchers can make sense of them.

JS’ intern work started on the day he arrived. Dr. Konopka was too busy to supervise him directly, so his Ph.D. degree student Meagan Houser (photo on the left) became his mentor. JS became Ms. Houser’s data processor and visualizer on demand.

The work involved reading many types of data from many different machines (EEG, MRI, SPECT). Some formats such as DICOM were easily read by Mathematica. Other proprietary formats had to be read in byte-by-byte. In the end, JS overcame all obstacles, and the frequency distribution of the EEG waves from various scalp locations started appearing as 3D graphs (the colorful graphs on the poster on the left photo). The full poster can be seen here.

Then the work continued to evolve, causing a constant need to update the algorithm and graphs. JS returned home after two weeks, but his work continued for several months via the Internet, until the whole research was concluded. Yes: He did internship in Chicago for six months while sitting at home in Virginia.

The research was completed successfully, and JS’ work was officially acknowledged by the team. JS’ name was added as one of the authors. He also received a golden recommendation letter from Dr. Konopka for his college application.

Details of the poster. “Lee, J.S.” can be seen before Dr. Konopka’s name

The story didn’t end there. This research was submitted to the 10th World Congress of Biological Psychiatry in May 2011. Of 895 abstracts submitted from 71 countries, this research won the first place in the poster session. JS’ resume became one notch more impressive as a result. It is good to be part of a winning team.


Graduate students of Dr. Konopka

The winning team at the 10th World Congress of Biological Psychiatry in Prague

Of 895 submitted abstracts, this team received 1st and 6th place prizes. (JS didn’t go.)

Thanks to JS’ excellent work, this team actively hires prepared interns to
perform data visualization in other research projects.

JS also took a full advantage of his Mathematica experience by volunteering to create animations for Professor Sachs at George Mason University. Those animations will be used for the professor’s upcoming Multivariable Calculus book.

JS ended up being accepted at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. This type of activity is exactly what MIT is looking for, but he didn’t even apply there because it was not a good fit for his future plans. He entered Harvard as a freshman in 2011.
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6378458/Column/Info/English/SpecialEvents.gifAs for how greatly this experience influenced his acceptances to universities, only their admissions officers know for sure. But it wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest the internship and recommendation letter positively affected his application.

So far, so good for JS. But starting in the 11th grade is too late for most students. JS’ schedule was very tight, too tight, and his research projects could have gone wrong any number of ways, such as if he had needed to re-measure, for instance. Had JS started this in 9th grade, he likely would have had his name in a research paper in a scientific journal (rather than a poster), and he would have been able to enter science competitions with his own project ideas derived from this work.

Although JS’ case worked very well in a tight schedule, luck was on his side. Usually, students have no guarantee that suitable position will be available based on their needs. The bigger their time windows, the more opportunities students have to grab unpredictably fleeting internships.

With JS’ success, Dr. Konopka and his graduate students accepted four more data analyzing and visualizing interns. Now Dr. Konopka is starting a few research projects that he would not have because he can now count on the availability of the interns’ work.

If your high-school student, or even 7th grader, has a keen interest in science and technology, they can learn scientific data processing now to prepare themselves for this type of activity soon. Unlike other activities, this research internship teaches them real science, and offers a network of real scientists starting at an early age. The time spent working as an intern also counts as volunteer hours.

I strongly recommend this path for your students.


James H. Choi


Categories: Internship

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