Welcome to the first installment of a new series featuring Forsyth Institute Alumni! Learn more and apply to join the Forsyth Alumni Association.
The Forsyth Institute Student Scholars Summer Internship Program exposes high-school students to the exciting and rewarding world of scientific research. Created in 1993, the program allows students to work side-by-side in the laboratory with world-renowned scientists engaged in cutting-edge research.
“The goals of the Student Scholars program are to teach students what scientific research involves, and to allow students to perform hands-on scientific research.” – Dr. Megan Pugach-Gordon, Director, Forsyth Institute Student Scholars Summer Internship Program
We sat down with Bethlehem Solomon, an alumna of the Forsyth Student Scholars program, to learn more about her experience in the program and what she’s up to now.
Q1: When did you participate in Forsyth’s Student Scholars program?
I was in the program for two summers: summer of 2007 and summer of 2008. I was accepted the summers after my freshman and sophomore years of high school.
Q2: Why were you interested in joining the Forsyth Student Scholars program? How did you find out about the program, and what inspired you to apply?
This was actually the very first job that I ever had. I was doing a job search online, and I knew I had two options as a high school student: I could work at a grocery store, or I could find a job that would give me perspective on what career I wanted to pursue. I had always been interested in biology and the sciences, but I didn’t really know what path I would go on. It was honestly a pretty naive job search; I was just looking for something that would give me insight on what a career in science and research is like. I didn’t have much information prior to applying, nor did I know anyone who had previously applied.
Q3: What did you work on during your internship at Forsyth?
The main project I worked on was trying to understand the effect of severe spinal cord injury on the body in terms of bone growth and bone loss. The work that I did specifically involved staining bone tissue from the knee joint to identify different types of cells and observe what’s going on in the tissue. From that, we were able to see suspension of bone growth in some areas and premature cell death and bone loss in other areas.
Q4: What was your favorite part of the internship? Was there a moment or memory that stands out?
Something I remember quite vividly was having lunch with the other scholars in the program. We would suggest different lunch places to each other, and I think this socialization made the experience unique. I’ve done other summer programs, but I don’t think I’ve ever found the same coming together of the students that I found with the Forsyth Student Scholars program.
One vivid memory I have from the final presentation was being asked a question that I didn’t fully know the answer to. I remember how my PI stood up, appreciated and backed my answer up and then continued to expand on my response. That moment was a true testament to how supportive my PI had been as a mentor throughout the entire program, which I was incredibly grateful for.
Q5: How did the program shape your career or academic path forward? How did it help you determine what you wanted to do in the future?
I’m in public health now, so I’m not doing lab work. But I am indebted to the program for allowing me to have first-hand experience in research. This type of practical work is invaluable for understanding what you like and don’t like. The program also gave me a good foundation for future summer programs that I did such as the CURE Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Q6: What are you up to now? What kind of research or work are you focused on?
I’m currently based in England at Imperial College London. I’m working on my PhD in the global health and epidemiology sector, and I’m specifically looking at housing quality and health inequality in London. Alongside the PhD, for the last couple of years I did research that’s more data and statistics based, looking at trends of risk factors for chronic disease globally. Starting this month, I begin a new role as a Teaching Fellow in Public Health at Imperial.
Q7: Why do you think it’s important to expose young people to science and research? What do you see as the benefits of the Student Scholars and other such programs?
Like I said, hands-on experience when it comes to science is really second to none. The earlier we get these opportunities, the better equipped we are to make decisions on what we want to pursue. I remember in college, a lot of my friends had never been in a lab before, whereas I had been doing lab work for almost four years. I was really lucky to have these experiences throughout my high school career, because being engaged in science is very different from simply reading textbooks. Just having that exposure as a young person can help us identify what our interests really are.
Also, the work that I did at Forsyth was published right around when I graduated high school. That experience of going through the publication process and knowing that my work was good enough built my confidence. It made me think, “I can do it; I can work in and be successful in these spaces.”