My internship at Harvard Medical School

Honors student Brian Garcia.

Name: Brian Garcia

Hometown: Guines, Cuba

What is your major? Biological sciences, College of Arts, Sciences and Education and Honors College

Where did you intern? What did you do there? My internship took place at Harvard Medical School, where I contributed to a research project focused on studying the molecular mechanisms that permit the successful proliferation of rotaviruses. Specifically, I developed mutant viral proteins that were used to track calcium levels around virus particles as they enter the host cell.

How did you get your internship? It was coordinated by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (HHMI EXROP), where you apply first at the individual university level then at the national level.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? I would recommend that you do your best to immerse yourself with the project that you will be working on. Review literature relevant to the project of interest, ask the head of the lab or any other lab mentor what could be done to proactively further the project prior to arriving to the lab in the summer.

What projects did you work on? I worked on two projects, both probing different aspects of the mechanism of entry. First I followed individual virus particles as they entered cells to determine whether or not the virus particles used clathrin-coated pits (component of normal cellular function), and to quantify how the timing of entry events vary among different cell-types. My second project involved designing, expressing and purifying mutant viral proteins that could be tagged with a calcium-sensitive fluorophore that would allow us to measure the local calcium levels around a virus particle to determine if calcium serves as a signal for membrane penetration by rotaviruses.

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? My internship required extensive knowledge of cellular biology and biochemistry when it came to the formulation of experiments and troubleshooting of protocols. The connection to coursework was most evident when designing the mutant viral protein which required well thought out modifications such that the structural integrity of the protein was not compromised because of the introduced mutation.

What was the coolest thing about your internship? Designing and creating a mutant viral protein and watching it function perfectly on a real virus was by far the coolest thing that happened during my internship. Another cool thing was able to use a lattice-light sheet microscope, a rare microscope that allows for high-resolution 3-D images of cells. There are only two of these microscopes in the entirety of the U.S., one at the Janelia Campus of the HHMI and one at Harvard Medical School.

What did you like most about your experience? I most enjoyed working and talking about science with all the bright people at Harvard Medical School, especially my daily mentor Dr. Eric Salgado.

What did you learn about yourself? My experience has shown me how I can best ask scientific questions, through what perspective. I find that I understand biology best through a structural perspective where you think of the microscopic world as a set of interacting components that apply both physical and chemical forces on each other. 

How did the position increase your professional confidence? Working in Harvard Medical School was a humbling experience which helped me internalize the fact that there will always be more to learn than what could possibly be known and that you can learn something from anyone. However, this acknowledgement has made me more confident in my capacity to collaborate with others to further collective objectives.

How did you expand your professional network? My professional network now reaches beyond Florida into Massachusetts where I am now in contact with a few post-doctoral research scientists and principal investigators.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” Being able to create a mutant virus protein from an idea into a functioning protein in tangible reality helped prove that my understanding of biological principles are well established.