Student Internship Stories: Darren Liu (CAS’22), Stanford School of Medicine

CCD: Tell us about your experience. What were your responsibilities?

DL: Every summer, I volunteer in a bioinformatics lab (Salzman Lab) close by to my home. Responsibilities change from year to year, but generally, I get assigned to a grad student or a research assistant and help them with their projects. General responsibilities include writing code, data analysis/visualization, and meeting with my supervisor every couple of days to talk about the work I’ve done and next steps.

CCD: How did you get the opportunity? What resources at BU or elsewhere did you use?

DL: I live near Stanford, so I looked up professors in their Biochemistry department. I knew I wanted to work in a small lab that was focused on some sort of computational biology, chemistry, or really anything computational. After looking through a couple of professors and labs, I found a small list of professors that I found interesting. I read through their papers and emailed them why I found their work interesting and that I wanted to volunteer in their lab over the summer. One professor replied and that’s how I met my PI. I didn’t really use a ton of official resources, it was a lot of looking at lab websites myself.

CCD: What was the best thing about the experience? What was the worst?

DL: The absolute worst part of the experience was really quickly realizing that I knew nothing. Especially because this was a research lab, a lot of the work the lab was doing was cutting edge, but that also meant that I understood very little of what they were doing. I felt super lost sitting in lab meetings and I had to constantly ask everyone around me for clarification. Even when it came to my own work, I oftentimes asked the grad students to sit down with me for a bit to talk out a concept or a problem. I would frequently get confused about what I was trying to do in the first place with my own projects and that really added to the stress of the situation. As someone who has wanted to go into the sciences for a while, my general feelings of being lost and uselessness really made me doubt whether I was ready for my major.

CCD: What was the most memorable moment of your experience?

DL: Last summer, when I came back to work with the lab, I got to work with RNA sequencing data of COVID positive patients. Stanford had a weekly COVID meeting, where faculty and grad students would come to share research and talk about general COVID-related things. I had been working on looking at how COVID gene expression relates to the viral load someone has. I remember that a grad student and I were going to do a quick presentation on some of the data I worked with and was super nervous going into the zoom call. When I presented the data, a couple of people commented on the data and how interesting my results were. Seeing adults recognize the work I did really validated my work and helped me realize that I learned a lot from when I first started working in the lab out of high school.

CCD: What advice would you give to another student about making the most of an internship, job, or other career-related experience?

DL: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find nice people willing to help you. There was no way I would be able to be where I am right now without the help of many different mentors.

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