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As a girl growing up in Colombia, Rosa Frias was inspired to study medicine after her mother’s death from colorectal cancer. Nine years later, Rosa is now a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College and her dreams of studying medicine received a timely jump-start this year through the Harvard Catalyst Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program (SCTRP) at Harvard Medical School.
The summer program provides underrepresented minority college students with early exposure to academic medicine careers. It is one of several mechanisms designed to help ensure that HMS continues to attract the best minds to careers in medicine and biomedical research.
SCTRP and its companion program for medical students, the Harvard Catalyst Visiting Research Internship Program (VRIP), capitalize on the power of strong mentor-trainee relationships to provide 16 students with hands-on experience each summer. Participants also get an inside look at careers in clinical and translational research.
Frias, 23, was initially drawn to the program by her interest in translational research. She was matched with mentor Gabriel Kreiman, HMS associate professor of ophthalmology at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I enjoy mentoring the SCTRP students, the daily interactions, teaching and learning from the students. I strive to come up with projects that are exciting, accessible and ideally where the student can see hints of a finished product towards the end,” said Kreiman. He said that his interest in serving as a mentor was fueled by his desire to help educate the next generation of researchers.
For Frias, he selected a research project well suited to her educational background in neuroscience and behavior. In her research, she characterized memory formation at the behavioral level by quantifying what, when and how people remember small movie fragments. Such movie fragments are essentially tiny stories and they represent a leap forward from earlier studies that focused on individual words or images.
Although Frias was initially intimidated when she learned that she would be working in an HMS neuroscience laboratory while in the program, her anxiety was quickly alleviated upon meeting Kreiman, whom she characterized as patient, accessible and always willing to “go the extra mile” to be helpful.
Reflecting on her summer experience, she described it as both eye-opening and enriching.
“It has allowed me to recognize the type of laboratory environment that I want to work in. The research and critical thinking skills learned and practiced here are applicable to any field of research,” said Frias.
The summer internship program has helped pave the way for the next step in Frias’ career path. She recently secured a position as a research assistant at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center to gain further research experience before applying to medical school.