Amazing Kids! Magazine

University of Texas Internship: My Experience

By Rishi Vas, age 17, Texas


Before starting my junior year, I worked as a research intern in the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care laboratory. It was the perfect time for me to start thinking about what I wanted to pursue as a career, and this opportunity helped guide me in that process.

The Center aims at a “future free from the burden of depression” (quote from website). During my internship on the 13th floor of the UTSW Bass Building, I worked on studies that examined the biological foundations of depression and bipolar disorder and experimented with novel approaches to help people suffering from these disorders. The team consisted of neuroscientists, statisticians, therapists, interns, UTSW faculty, and other staff.

I was the youngest and least experienced in the lab, the next youngest being three years my senior. This unfamiliarity pushed me to “step up my game” to the level of my fellow college interns, allowing me to get the most out of the summer. I also got an opportunity to interact with the researchers, whose career trajectories combined with their dedication gave me a standard to look up to and motivated me to push myself harder.

Subject-specific didactics, led by researchers, helped the interns learn about certain foci of the lab. Each intern was also assigned his or her own instructor to guide one through the lab procedures. We worked with the whole team and tried to help with whatever we could, immersing ourselves as much as possible in their research studies. While I was involved in data entry and double-checking statistics, I also participated in more interesting activities. My instructor and I talked a lot about the studies he conducted, and I got to hear firsthand the path of becoming a researcher. My fellow interns’ instructors and I also engaged in discussion often, teaching me that the nuances between many different paths also end up in the same lab. As part of my internship, the lab assigned us research articles and medical papers to read each week, all linked in some way to depression studies. These readings gave us a general idea of all topics covered in the lab while simultaneously giving us the option to choose a topic of our interest.  The articles highlighted depression’s powerful impact on the society and taught me that an individual’s emotions and thought processes make us who we are.

It is reported that more than half of patients treated with commonly used treatments (e.g., SSRIs) achieve only a partial response to remission. While $43 billion is spent each year to treat depression and improve depression care, more needs to be done, and more can be done. The Center’s mission along with my instructor’s experiments in studying the use of exercise as a possible augmentation to current drug treatment is outside-the-box thinking. I love that UTSW is at the forefront of addressing this problem with multiple approaches. This, and all the other work in the lab, led me to immerse myself in the cause and think more about how I could help myself, my friends, and others deal better with our emotions. More importantly, I realized that innovative ideas could come to fruition with great team members and eventually improve countless lives.

I walked out of Bass Building with a few new additions to my repertoire. Firstly, my knowledge and interest level in depression research increased greatly. With this knowledge, I’ve learned to better empathize with others. Some people have gone through incredibly tough times, and I cannot even imagine being in their shoes. This consequently made me more aware of my (and others’) feeling, thoughts, and emotions.  My presentation skills also improved greatly. Each of the interns had to give individual talks to the whole lab. Usually (in high school) when one presents, the speaker is an expert, and the audience is often less knowledgeable about the topic. It was the opposite for me; the audience knew the material I was talking about very well, adding a lot of pressure on me. This only made me a better presenter, and I am glad I had this experience. Lastly, I’ve started looking at the world differently. I’ve learned how it is in the “real world,” as opposed to the high school experience. I also got exposure to a research environment and enjoyed it (even when I was “only an intern”). I had never been in such a thought-provoking setting before, and it was nice to be doing something so stimulating during summer break!

Lessons learned from my UTSW internship continue to help me even a year later. Like countless other rising seniors in the U.S., I am in the “college shopping process.” I often use my UTSW experience to ask different college counselors about their schools’ efforts to include students in their research work. Will I be in a cultivating environment at this university? Most of my classmates ask the same questions. Some may not have the experience that I was fortunate enough to experience.

I still consider myself “clueless” when it comes to deciding my career path. This internship served as an eye-opening experience in an academic hospital, and I am certainly not opposed to being part of a professional institution, like UTSW, in the future. In sum, my time at UTSW was beyond an internship—it piqued my interests in human behavior and allowed me to test-drive some of my interests. I will be ever grateful for this opportunity.