Student Story

Katie Mansour '21 Translates Boston Children's Hospital Internship into Senior Capstone Project

Tell us about the process of getting the internship with Dr. Priebe's lab at Boston Children's Hospital.

In the spring semester of my junior year, I was enrolled in microbiology, and my professor, Dr. Meredith Finn, worked in an infectious disease research lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. I decided I would ask Dr. Finn about internship opportunities available in hospital research labs. Through this conversation, I discovered that most internships in this capacity require students to earn course credits and/or find their own funding.

Through a friend of mine, I found out about the Passionate Leaders Project (PLP), which provides students with a grant to pursue any project of their choosing and interest. Through this process, I also learned that the best way to find these hospital research internships is to reach out to a lab’s principal investigator via email, so that's what I did. I looked into research labs focusing on infectious disease, dermatology, and obstetrics in hospitals throughout the Longwood Medical Area and at Massachusetts General Hospital. I emailed my resume and cover letter to many principal investigators and eventually interviewed with Dr. Priebe and Dr. Schaefers at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Luckily, this process occurred in early February of 2020, so I was able to have an in-person interview. This gave both the lab and me plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments to account for the new COVID restrictions before my starting date in June. I'm incredibly fortunate that Dr. Priebe and Dr. Schaefers agreed to meet with me, offer me the position, and proceed with the project during the pandemic.

What were your responsibilities?

When I first started working in the Priebe Lab, I was working on finalizing several experiments for the thesis project of Dr. Sarah Osmulski, which she completed for her graduate requirements at Harvard Medical School. The project was a genomic characterization of Burkholderia contaminans, a pathogen (disease-causing bacteria) that is highly antibiotic- and bleach-resistant. This pathogen poses a particular danger to patients with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system.

Some of the experiments that I conducted included growth assays to compare the impact of mutations on particular genes present in several variants of the pathogen that has been linked to increased resistance to the antibiotic ceftazidime. With the previous work done by Dr. Osmulski and Dr. Schaefers, along with the studies I conducted, we’re submitting a paper for publication. I’m also using this research as my senior capstone requirement.

I began my internship in June, and as my capstone became a more fully realized project, Dr. Schaefers and I decided that I would continue working with the lab through the school year. Since finalizing the experiments involving B. contaminans, I’ve started working on a project involving another Burkholderia species called Burkholderia dolosa. These two projects are now the topic of my senior capstone project, which has developed into a broader investigation into evolved variants of members of the Burkholderia cepacia complex.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that working in an encouraging environment where I feel free to ask questions and make mistakes is more important than anything else.

What did you learn from this experience?

I’m continuously learning new lab techniques through this internship, such as qPCR, macrophage invasion assays, minimum inhibitory concentration assays, as well as cloning techniques. I’ve gained a lot of confidence working in a lab thanks to the patience of Dr. Schaefers. Learning all of these techniques allows me to make new mistakes to use as further learning experiences.

I’m also able to practice my communication skills by presenting my research in weekly lab meetings. These experiments have also helped me develop problem-solving skills and have definitely taught me how to formulate questions. Most importantly, I’ve learned that working in an encouraging environment where I feel free to ask questions and make mistakes is more important than anything else. 

What was it like completing an internship during the pandemic?

It was not easy, but I'm fortunate that I can complete experiments in person. We have to follow a lot of restrictions set in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, but we have found a schedule and plan that works for everyone involved in the lab. There are a lot of Zoom meetings, all lab space has to be reserved online before the day of experiments, and we have to test your health before arrival. Luckily, through Boston Children’s Hospital, everyone in the lab has been able to receive a vaccine. 

What advice would you give other students who are looking for internships?

Give yourself plenty of time to find the right internship placement. Have patience and know that your path won’t be the same as your classmates. It's not a race — so don't compare yourself to others.

I also encourage other students to reach out to professors and their classmates who have gone through the same experiences — it was through my friends and classmates that I was able to find grants like the PLP.

Why did you pursue a degree in biochemistry?

Simmons’ relationships with hospitals throughout Boston also made me excited to pursue a degree in the natural sciences here. I initially enrolled at Simmons as a biology major. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I decided to pursue a biochemistry degree after taking organic chemistry — of all classes! I was excited about the career options that biochemistry would provide. 

Do you have a favorite Simmons memory?

It's hard to pick just one, but if I had to choose, it would have to be attending a performance of the Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. Simmons offers discounted tickets for students every year, and in December of my junior year, I was able to go with a dear friend of mine. It was hands down the best finals study break.

Another memory that I love was the day trip to New York City that the Office of Student Leadership & Activities (OSLA) organizes every year. Three of my closest friends and I woke up early one Saturday morning and were able to spend the entire day exploring Manhattan. We had lox and bagels from Russ and Daughters as soon as we arrived and then made our way through Washington Square Park, 5th Avenue, and stopped by the New York Public Library before spending time in Central Park. We went shopping in the Turnstyle Underground Market and some window shopping at Saks 5th Avenue.

I will always smile thinking of that day, and I’m so lucky to have that experience with some of my favorite people that I was fortunate enough to meet here at Simmons.

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