Science in an Office Environment: My Summer at NIDA
My name is Michael and I was an intern at NIDA during the summer of 2012. Normally, people picture scientists in laboratories when they think about the National Institutes of Health, but my time with NIDA has shown me that a lot of important scientific work is done in the office setting. Interning with NIDA, I was able to learn about scientific investigating, while also learning important aspects of working in a Government office, like public speaking and professionalism.
I worked on behalf of the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Workgroup at NIDA. Being an Asian American myself, I felt it appropriate that while learning the ropes of a scientific career, I could also participate in a program that would help prevent problems affecting minorities. The goal of my internship was to work with other AAPI Workgroup interns to design a Web site that would function as a survey to assess the rate of substance use among Asians as well as act as a research portal for anyone interested in learning about the dangers of drug abuse.
Since the interns had different skill sets, we all made the most out of our time because tasks were assigned according to our individual capabilities. On an average day, I would commute to NIDA and begin working on tasks, which usually involved research on a particular drug topic. Twice a week, the AAPI team would meet for a teleconference, where we heard drug-related lectures and received work instructions.
Some interesting things I learned during my NIDA internship include:
- The scope of addictive behaviors is increasing, with new problems that didn't exist before. For example, Internet addiction disorder is an emerging problem that may become a legitimate addiction in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—used to diagnose mental health conditions.
- Cultural pressures play a huge role in substance use, and different racial subgroups vary in their drug usage rates. For instance, Asian subgroups—such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese—have different rates of drug abuse and dependence.
- People who try drugs in adolescence can triple their chances of abusing drugs when they’re adults.
Aside from the abundance of new information I learned about the risks and prevalence of drug use, the daily practice of professionalism in the workplace is probably the greatest thing that I got out of this program. Whether it was simply dressing up every day or learning to work with peers and elders, interning at NIDA helped me grow into a more open-minded and mature individual. My experience with NIDA has given me insight into what it is really like to have a career in science, and it has definitely influenced my idea of a desirable path for the future.
This internship is very new because the summer of 2012 was its first year. Whatever direction this program goes, it offers valuable, real-world experiences, and so I encourage everyone to apply or simply stay tuned to NIDA to experience the intellectual growth that I have.
Michael Guo is a senior in high school in Vienna, Virginia. He interned with NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network, which develops, validates, and delivers new treatment options to patients in Community Treatment Programs.