“I feel inspired and motivated every day. I still cannot believe that I’m here,” said Yaman Thapa when we connected in the summer while she was interning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the premier educational institution located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Thapa, a chemistry major with a neuroscience minor, was chosen for the Bernard S. and Sophie G. Gould MIT Summer Research Program in Biology, which is offered in collaboration with MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and is open to advanced sophomores and juniors who are not MIT students.
Thapa spent 10 weeks working in an advanced bioinformatics lab at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Her mentor closely supervised her during experiments and presentations, she met weekly with two or three MIT faculty members, scientists, deans and peers and she took a methods and logic class to enhance her skills for reading scientific papers. Her research project on “Three-dimensional intact tissue transcriptional analysis of mouse spinal cord” looked at where in the spinal cord specific genes are expressed.
“I learned a lot and met brilliant people every day,” said Thapa, an international student from Kathmandu, Nepal. “Meeting different professors and understanding the possibilities of science was inspiring.”
While working in the labs, Thapa appreciated the strong foundation she received from the faculty in Caldwell’s Department of Natural Sciences including the research class with Dr. Agnes Berki; the experimentation in Dr. Daryl Aucoin’s biochemistry lab, which helped her understand biological phenomena; the analytical chemistry lab with Dr. Marjorie Squires, which helped her build confidence with handling chemicals; Dr. Xiaolei Gao’s lectures, which prepared her to understand chemical reactions that underlie synthesis and biochemical reactions, and psychology professor Dr. Jon Sigurjonsson’s class, which helped her understand the connection between interdisciplinary concepts.
During downtime Thapa and the other students took excursions around Boston and Cambridge, enjoying a boat cruise, dinner in Chinatown, a Fourth of July celebration, painting and fitness classes and more.
One of Thapa’s goals during her internship was to improve her presentation skills so she can communicate science clearly to the general population. She was given that opportunity when she gave several presentations explaining a complex concept for different levels of understanding.
Thapa is pleased to know that students who have participated in the MIT program have done very well, with 85% being accepted into highly ranked graduate programs within two years of their internships. When she graduates from Caldwell, she would like to study molecular and cellular neuroscience, starting right away in a doctoral degree program or working as a research assistant for a few years before going to graduate school.
Beyond the science experiences, Thapa is grateful for the people she met and with whom she developed relationships. In particular, she enjoyed the social events with her MIT research peer groups, being on campus, having philosophical and scientific conversations and interacting with people from different backgrounds. “It has strengthened my desire to seek knowledge, understand the physical and biological world and make a contribution towards humanity.”