In the beginning all I wanted was a research opportunity with adequate pay. The job I
received gave me so much more. My job became a way of life.
Here are the things I must tell you for the sake of the conversation: I interned at Columbia
Presbyterian School of Physicians and Surgeons in Dr. Connolly’s Neurovascular Laboratory.
Daily I was surrounded by a friendly group of residents, medical students, college kids, and high
school students who were for the most part interested with neurosurgery. My lab group consisted
of Alexander Sisti, a junior at Columbia University, Josh Chalif, of Dartmouth, and Steven
Smith, from Tufts. Our project involved isolating DNA samples from the saliva samples of
subarachnoid hemorrhage patients in order to analyze the DNA for a polymorphism that caused
vasospasms or the excessive, inexplainable constrictions of cranial blood vessels after a stroke. I
spent most of my time running PCRs and looking up journal articles for the review article the
residents were writing. In the end, I got the data I was looking for in the form of DNA
sequencing charts and databases my group compiled. But if my experience at Columbia was
limited to that, I doubt that I would have much to remember.
I learned more from the people around me than I would have anticipated. I learned that
medical school isn’t so hard (supposedly). I learned the difference between a CT scan and a MRI.
I learned how to eat flaming cheese.
The people in my lab were more than just “bright” people. They had hearts and lives.
Bart, a recent medical school graduate, gave the interns daily lectures on neurology, and cracked
jokes hourly. Josh was teaching himself how to play the guitar, while trying to publish a book his
girlfriend wrote. Alex introduced me to the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. Karl, an intern from
Stuyvesant High School, played badminton with me after work. I remember my internship for
I remember my internship for the food. Everyday all the high school students and college
kids ate lunch on the town. Without my buddies, perhaps I would have never tapped into the
variety of restaurants surrounding the hospital. There was Dallas BBQ with it’s gigantic hot
wings and Symposium, a Greek restaurant where we ordered two helpings of flaming cheese. We
went everywhere from Tasty’s Deli to Lucky Jade House to El Presidente. Once while we were
eating outdoors at Coogan’s Bar and Restaurant, a resident walked by and asked what the
occasion was, to which Josh, nonplussed, replied, “Lunch.”
I remember that our group was unable to get sequencing results for days on end. We
amplified the DNA. We purified the DNA. We performed a gel electrophoresis in the hopes of
seeing bands of DNA in the gel only to find none. Then the sequencing charts would come back
from the sequencing lab as an indecipherable mess of squiggles. I learned how to troubleshoot a
PCR but more so I learned how to not give up, to keep innovating strategies until success is in
reach. In the words of Steve, “When God gives you lemons, you find a new god.”
Science was important on the job. Every Wednesday, the residents, Brad, Zach and
Andrew, would pretend us interns were radiologists and test us on identifying brain structures
and abnormalities in scans. Yet, social skills were equally important. At the lab party, Alex,
himself the son of a neurosurgeon working at Columbia, introduced me to my boss, Dr.
Connolly, and his wife. We went from talking about the restaurant (Boat Basin) to the appetizers
(thin slices of raw tuna) to Mrs. Connolly’s alma mater (Yale). Although, I loved the
neurosurgery aspect of my internship, I appreciated the social aspect, because it helped me grow.
I felt cultured. I felt alive. Between talking about cranial nerves with Bart to discussing Ayn
Rand and the Olympics with Alex, how could I not?
I did so much this summer. I gained experience in a field I actually want to go into. I
wrote poetry. I played computer games with my friends. I came, I worked, I ate. I felt loved and
appreciated. When I left, it was hard to say goodbye. A paycheck doesn’t cover all the memories I
have, no, not by a long shot.