A summer of soaking up the research

Jennifer Garcia-Cano, who holds two bachelor's degrees in public health from the University of California, Irvine, is participating in an NIDA Summer Research Internship at the University at Buffalo this summer.

NIDA internship program exposes students to all aspects of conducting research

Release Date: August 16, 2016

“We need to make sure that the next round of scientists are ready, and that we get people excited about research.”
Greg Homish, PhD, associate professor of community health and health behavior
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – While many of their peers have been soaking up the sun this summer, a handful of budding researchers have been working at the University at Buffalo, absorbing the ins and outs of conducting research.

The students spent eight weeks at UB as part of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Summer Research Internship Program. The program includes support for students from populations underrepresented in the sciences and who are interested in careers in biomedical and behavioral research.

Through this eight-week program, high school and undergraduate students are introduced to the field of substance abuse and addiction research by participating in research internships with NIDA’s distinguished scientists at universities across the United States.

Students can view a list of dozens of internship postings available at universities and research institutes around the country and select the one that most interests them.

Jennifer Garcia-Cano, a West Coast native who has two bachelor’s degrees in public health from the University of California, Irvine, chose UB for the program because she liked the idea of studying drug abuse through an epidemiologic lens.

She’s working under the direction of Greg Homish, associate professor and associate chair of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

“Being here has definitely sparked my interest in research, especially in substance abuse,” said Garcia-Cano, who plans to take a year off before applying to graduate school.

Paul Meyer, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, is working with two NIDA summer interns. Anne Taylor, a rising senior from Rochester, New York, who attends SUNY Binghamton, is studying the role of taste in nicotine’s effects on alcohol consumption. Nicholas Nguyen, a rising sophomore from Houston who attends the University of Houston, is studying the effects of maternal diet on food choices in offspring.

“Our goal is to expose the interns to multiple stages of research. They have to design their own study after reading others’ published papers, figure out the practical and technical aspects of their experiments, and of course run the experiments,” said Meyer. “After leaving, we hope they have a clear picture of what science is really like, both in terms of its overarching goals and the mundane aspects of laboratory life.”

For her project, Garcia-Cano is leading an effort to look at trust in a small subset of U.S. Reserve soldiers who are part of Homish’s five-year study examining social and environmental influences of substance use among reservists and their partners.

“Jennifer came up with this notion of looking at trust in the VA system and how that differs based on substance use backgrounds,” says Homish. “She was here for two weeks and came up with that idea.”

In addition, Garcia-Cano is working with Lynn Kozlowski, professor of community health and health behavior, on a study looking at e-cigarette use among the same sample.

“The ultimate goal is for her to be able to get a publishable abstract that she can present at a conference, and for her to take the lead on all this,” says Homish. “It’s an ambitious goal to complete an abstract in such a short period of time, but she’s got a good set of skills and we have the data ready for her, so it’s an achievable goal.”

Interns receive a stipend from NIDA for their participation in the program, which involves a full-time work load throughout the two months they are here.

“We’ve tried to design a well-rounded program that exposes Jennifer to a lot of different aspects of research,” says Homish. “We need to make sure that the next round of scientists are ready, and that we get people excited about research.”

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