Alumni Connection Leads Aldrich ’19 to UCLA Lab
Hamilton students are fortunate to have access to an engaged alumni network that they can depend on for career advice, making connections, and providing career-related experience opportunities. Sara Aldrich ’19 made one such connection with Dr. Bruce Dobkin ’69, a professor of neurology at UCLA. Dobkin has supported 18 Hamilton student internships since 2000. Read about her summer internship below.
Where are you working this summer?
I’m doing research in Dr. Alcino Silva’s lab, which is in the UCLA graduate neurobiology department. It does primarily animal research, focusing on memory processing and disorders.
The internship was curated by Dr. Bruce Dobkin ’69. He is a professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where he does clinical research. A couple professors at Hamilton mentioned the position to me, so I filled out the application and sent it to Dr. Dobkin. He accepted me, and upon looking at my CV he decided that my skill set was better suited to another lab. Dr. Dobkin was kind enough to recommend me to Dr. Silva, who is a world-class, well-known researcher. I had an interview with Dr. Silva and after that I was hired.
What’s an average day for you on the job?
In all honesty, every day is different! Often in the mornings, I’ll be in the confocal microscope room counting cells on the analysis computer. I do a lot of cell counting, which involves taking the confocal images of the brain slices and identifying cell types, quality, and numbers using a computer program. That yields some data for statistics. I assist in conducting the behavioral assays, which are the tasks the animals go through to provide more holistic data on their actual behavior.
Hometown: Ritzville, Washington
High School: Lind-Ritzville High School
After cell counting, I’ll have lunch with the other interns in my lab group in the “interaction zone” (which is our fun name for the break room) or on the patio outside the building. Afternoons can hold anything from checking up on the breeding colonies to performing immunohistochemistry.
What do you hope to learn through your internship?
One of my main goals was to learn how to handle myself in a large lab. Dr. Silva’s team consists of around 10 people, not including undergrads, and there is so much going on at any one time. It’s a very different environment than the labs at Hamilton in terms of both size and research topics, and I really wanted to broaden my horizons and perhaps put myself further down the road to being a scientist.
But above all, I wanted to learn about and from people. I hoped to learn new skills and techniques and to get better at the ones I already had a grasp on before coming to UCLA.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I plan to go to graduate school to get a doctorate in neuroscience. I’d like to do research in some capacity, although becoming a professor has been something I’ve been considering more and more lately.
Those goals for the future are part of why I applied to this internship. The fact that this was in a graduate lab was very appealing to me. It allowed me to see what research in a graduate setting looked like and to make valuable connections in both a networking and an educational sense.
What advice would you give to students looking for summer internships?
First, I highly encourage any sophomore or junior neuroscience majors to apply to this internship next year. My experience at UCLA—and interacting with Dr. Dobkin—has been fantastic. I know others that had this position before me, and they feel similarly. I hope that others that come after will agree as well.
A few other suggestions: Don’t be afraid to apply. You’ll never get an internship if you never apply for one. Secondly, apply to internships like you’d apply for college — have some safety, match, and dream positions so that you’ll have options when the time comes. Always, always have someone look over your application so that it can be the best it can be. Be proactive in your search for positions and make sure you find one that’s right for you.
Previous student internships supported by Bruce Dobkin ’69:
Katyarina Efimenko Brunette ’02 (2000)
Elizabeth Warner ’02 (2001)
Kateri Spinelli ’03 (2002)
Alexander Venizelos ’03 (2003)
Heather Shapiro ’05 (2004)
Jessica Wagoner ’06 (2005)
Julia Brandt ’07 (2006)
Leeann Brigham ’09 (2007)
Shyama Nair ’10 (2008)
Jeremy Safran ’11 (2009)
Caitlyn Williams ’11 (2010)
Jamie Azdair ’13 (2012)
Brad Hagan ’15 (2013)
Kassandra Zaila ’15 (2014)
Samantha Rosen ’17 (2015)
Tatenda Chakoma ’18 (2016)
Debbie Kim ’19 (2017)