Biology Student Hieu Tran Accepted to Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program
Hieu Tran, a candidate for Bachelor of Science in Medical and Molecular Biology '23, has been accepted to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program.
During the 10-week program, Tran will be paired with a research mentor and assigned a project for the summer. He will participate in different professional opportunities such as a stem cell seminar series, a career pathways presentation, and a weekly stem cell companion course. He will also be expected to present his summer research findings, both orally and in poster format, at the Harvard Internship Program Symposium.
“I am very proud of Hieu's accomplishment. They accepted 20 students out of almost 500 applicants . . . it's an amazing achievement!” says Professor of Psychology Amanda Kentner, PhD.
Setting up a Strategy
For Tran, the acceptance to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Research program is a long time in the making. Ever since he was young, he knew that he wanted to work in the healthcare field.
“I got accepted into other schools like Boston University, Boston College, University of Connecticut, but I chose MCPHS because of the size—because I knew that I wanted to have one-on-one mentorship with professors,” he says.
During his time at MCPHS, he has been actively working to build his connections to help him build himself as the best healthcare professional that he can be.
“The amount of access that I get to professors is amazing, and it’s really helpful because that’s the reason why I could comfortably ask for recommendations from a lot of professors," he says.
Persistence is Key
Tran reached out to Dr. Kentner to join her lab. At the time, undergraduate students were not allowed in the wet labs because they were closed due to the pandemic so Dr. Kentner denied his request.
“I was persistent. I reached out again in the summer and, once again, she said 'no' because it was the year when COVID just hit us,” he says. “I thought ok, I’m going to take her class and show her that I can do well in her class.”
In fall, Tran took her class and reached out again to Dr. Kentner with a request to join the lab. She accepted and he started working in the Dr. Kentner’s lab in October 2020. At the same time, he applied for a mini-grant by the Center for Undergraduate Research. Dr. Kentner was impressed by the initiative he showed, looking into funding for the lab. He was successfully awarded the grant by the Center for Undergraduate Research in November.
Due to the safety and densification rules in place according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, Dr. Kentner created virtual research experiences for him to work on during the first half of the pandemic.
With the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions, on Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons, Tran now works as the Senior Undergraduate Research Assistant in Dr. Kentner’s lab. He has been working on a two-year project studying the effects of offspring social behavior and neurological deficits from maternal immune activation through gestational Poly (I:C) challenge, a model for autism and schizophrenia. Tran also trains new research assistants on microscope protocols and brain cell quantification.
So far, Tran has two publications from his work in Dr. Kentner’s lab and two pre-prints expected later this year.
A Second Research Project
Knowing that he wanted to get additional research experience outside of MCPHS, Tran signed up for BIO 530, an elective that allows biology majors to get school credit for their research endeavors.
“I suggest everyone doing research outside of school to do that class,” he says.
Through the class, he was connected with Rakesh Karmacharya, MD, PhD and Paulo Lizano, MD at The Center for Genomic Medicine and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Currently, he is working with them to develop a model system using human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived brain microvascular endothelial cells to investigate neurovascular dysfunction in schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. In this role, he conducts RNA extractions, qPCRs, western blots, and maintains, thaws, splits, and freezes induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
“I was really lucky to get a mentor . . . I’m the only undergrad there at the lab,” he says.
Learning New Skills
In addition to his time in the lab, he worked with Assistant Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences J Alex Trayford for two to three hours a week for a month on his summer applications.
“We were just working the perfect 750-word essay to put in,” he says. “It was really difficult and we worked on it every other day for an hour. He was there with me all the way and he has experience working with students on applications like this, so his insight was super helpful.”
He spoke about the importance of building your experience and learning new skills from each place you are in.
“I don’t think I would have gotten this research position at MGH without having done research at school with Dr. Kentner," he says.
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program is one of six summer programs to which Tran applied. He explains that, as an international student, it was challenging for him to find summer programs that would accommodate an international student visa.
“If I wasn’t an international student, there would have been like 1,000 more opportunities, but only really high-caliber institutions can afford to have an international student—like, Harvard, MIT, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins—so it was a big challenge,” he says.
He says that he was excited and also surprised to be accepted into the program because of its highly competitive nature.
“It’s an international pool and almost 500 people apply from all over the world. People are competing for just 20 spots,” he says.
Tran explains that he applied specifically to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program because it was affiliated with the labs of Drs. Rakesh Karmacharya and Paulo Lizano.
One of the big motivators for him to apply to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program was the international cohort that the program attracts.
“I looked at the past cohorts and saw that I’ll be able to meet people that are not just from Harvard. . . there have been people from Egypt, from Europe, from England and just all over the United States,” he says.
He says that it is important for him to represent Vietnam, especially in the sciences.
“There’s not that much scientific representation internationally for Vietnam. I want to put my country out there,” he says. “I want to show them that Vietnam can do science.”
Outside of School
In addition to balancing a full-time course load and two research positions, Tran is President of the MCPHS Pre-Med Society and Vice President of the Philosophy Society.
“I have learned to balance time, and communication is key in that,” he says. “There’s always more that you can do, but I’ve learned to communicate with my mentors and say that I have this allocated time for you.”
He says that most people think that he has no time, but he feels that he has a lot of time because he’s learned how to optimize his schedule while still having fun.
“I don't want to do things just because I feel the need to check a box, but I’m really trying to explore,” he says.
He expects to graduate from the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program with his Bachelor of Science in Medical and Molecular Biology and minors in Health Psychology and Healthcare Humanities in May 2023.
After graduation, he plans to take a gap year working as a research technician before applying to medical school.