2023 marked a decade since the inception of the flagship internship program between the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and University of California (UC), Merced. What started with 2 interns in the summer of 2014 has grown to a total of 75 with the inclusion of the 2023 cohort. Each of them has brought invaluable insights, thoughts, and explorations that has led to groundbreaking science and opportunities to speak on a national level.
A crowd of excited attendees consisting of current interns, mentors, alumni, and other staff gathered at the Integrative Genomics Building, the JGI’s home at Berkeley Lab, as representatives highlighted the benefits of this collaboration.
JGI Director Nigel Mouncey reflected on how the JGI – UC Merced Intern partnership had become a “model” of sorts at the Lab. “This project represents part of our long term efforts to contribute towards a diverse workforce and scientific community (working with the JGI) as well as our efforts in workforce development. We have a number of initiatives across several different campuses with this being our largest and most successful one. It’s proven to be a really good model for us that we try and continually replicate.”
On the other side, UC Merced Senior Assistant Dean and CFO of the School of Natural Sciences Ernie Costello beamed as he spoke of what the program does for UC Merced students. He described it as “life changing” for the interns and loved the opportunities that the program provides. He mentioned working with Elizabeth Dumont, Dean of the School of Natural Sciences, to make sure that they provide the “funding and administrative/faculty support so that they can deliver these programs to our students.”
Following this, several internship program committee members including JGI Deputy of Science Programs and Internship co-founder Axel Visel and UC Merced Quantitative Systems Biology professor Carolin Frank reflected on the past decade and shared favorite memories in a panel discussion.
Suzanne Sindi, a program cofounder and Applied Math professor at UC Merced, noted that the part that was the most rewarding of all the work that went into this program was the feedback from the graduate student interns; “it changed what I want to do with my life,” “I can code.”
Jorge Arroyo, director of UC Merced’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Center, echoed similar sentiments for the undergraduate interns. For him, it was a special moment to see interns go from being “intimidated and nervous” at the beginning of the summer to “confident in themselves and their research” during their final presentations and beyond.
Before breaking for the poster session of the 2023 intern cohort, representative mentors and alumni shared their perspectives on the program and how much it meant to be a part of it all. Among them was Travis Lawrence, the first graduate student intern from the 2014 cohort. After working on his post-doctoral position with the Plant and Microbe Interaction group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he has started a new position as the Senior Manager, Machine Learning at Pilot Flying J. Nathaniel Brown was a 2022 graduate student intern who is now a graduate researcher in Jing Xu’s lab and a teaching assistant for the UC Merced Quantitative and Systems Biology department.
Jonelle Basso, a JGI research scientist and program mentor, discussed how “advocating and listening to the interns and learning their perspectives and views” helped her further develop management and supporting skills for the students. Being able to do this was beneficial to her in multiple ways. “At Berkeley Lab, we have an established set of core stewardship values which are integral to what I do on a daily basis. Two of the most relevant are service and respect, and I live these values by being able to pass along my knowledge to them as best as possible in a safe environment” This not only helped her be successful as a mentor for the internship program, but it also helped her in her role at the Lab as well.
One of the 2015 program alumnus Cristhian Gutierrez discussed how his time as an undergraduate intern at the JGI helped his career trajectory and ambitions. He reminisced over the impact of a meeting he had with former JGI Director Eddy Rubin. “That one meeting honestly kind of changed a lot of things because I had never known what a MD/PhD program was. After that meeting, I was thinking ‘I don’t know what I need to do but I want to become like you.’ And so here I am, living that dream from way long ago.”
Byline: Graham Rutherford