IAP

This is the first in a series of posts from two MIT students—Taylor Yates MBA ’14 and Shawn Wen ’13—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers will report on what they learn and how the experience informs their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor.

Guest Blogger: Taylor Yates MBA ’14
Extern sponsor: Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06
Company: FeedZai, Redwood City, CA
Externship title: business development and marketing associate

From left: Externship sponsor Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06 and extern Taylor Yates MBA ’14.

From left: Externship sponsor Yue Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06 and extern Taylor Yates MBA ’14.

I’ve taken a deep dive into my externship at FeedZai, a real-time fraud-prevention tech start-up. Real-time fraud prevention is the art and science—okay, mostly science—of catching fraudsters in the seconds it takes to swipe and approve/decline a stolen credit card. FeedZai thinks it can do this better than anyone.

My role as “our MIT guy,” as the CEO referred to me on my second day, is to identify and analyze the trends in payment processing that will impact fraud and whether FeedZai’s strategy is taking advantage of those trends. It’s a big project that Sloan alumna Cathy Chang MBA ’06, SM ’06 brought me on to tackle.

Every day I am digging through reports, white papers, and PowerPoint presentations to learn as much as I can, and I love it. For me, there are few things more gratifying than learning as much as you can about a topic and being challenged to digest it into useful information. Cathy touches base with me every day and expects me to have weighty questions, which helps keep me on task and out of Wikipedia rabbit holes.

I’m finding that it is critical to be humble in the tech industry, especially for MBAs. The leading edge here is so far ahead of the rest of the world that you need to keep reminding yourself: there’s a lot to do and you know nothing, so you better enjoy learning through doing.

About Taylor Yates MBA ’14
I  moved to Cambridge from Virginia, where I worked variously in cyber security and international development. After working on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, I came to MIT to pursue an MBA with a focus on technology. I survived Course 15’s infamous core semester and even found time to enjoy working on the MIT $100K competition with undergraduate students, the really smart people at MIT.

{ 0 comments }

From left: Students Dan and Hansol have a little fun in the lab during one episode.

From left: Students Dan and Hansol have a little fun in the lab during one episode. Click to enlarge.

Each January, a group of MIT freshmen spend four weeks taking a class with a significant prize: pass Introductory Lab Techniques (a.k.a. 5.301) and they are guaranteed a job in an MIT research lab. How do they handle the high-stakes pressure? Find out this fall in ChemLab Boot Camp, an 11-episode reality series brought to you by OpenCourseWare (OCW) and Dow Chemical Company.

The show documents the successes and failures of 14 students as they struggle to complete experiments in nuclear magnetic resonance, column chromatography, spectrophotometry, and more. Watch them master the intricacies of working with solvents and compete to grow the largest crystals. The result is part open educational resource, part reality TV and allows viewers a unique glimpse into the lives of real students.

The videos are also aimed at generating interest in science and engineering careers and illustrating the value of hands-on experience. “We hope to show the human side of our field and to inspire young people to want to become the next generation of chemists,” said John Essigmann SM ’72, PhD ’76, MIT chemistry professor and the show’s executive producer.

ChemLab Boot Camp is part of OCW’s Highlights for High School, which organizes more than 70 introductory-level courses and 2,700 individual resources for use by students and educators of AP curricula.

A new episode, each two to five minutes long and filmed last January, will be released weekly starting Sept. 18. Check out the trailer below and sign up for email notifications of episode releases and special content.

{ 0 comments }

Guest blogger: Joseph Cutrufo, program coordinator, WalkBoston

Mariko Davidson at work on the Spicket River Greenway.

Mariko Davidson at work on the Spicket River Greenway.

This past January, two local nonprofit organizations enlisted the help of MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning graduate students Mariko Davidson and Jocelyn Drummond to work on a project aimed at making Lawrence, Massachusetts, more walkable. Davidson and Drummond, along with the pedestrian advocacy organizations WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence, which builds healthy communities through environmental and open-space improvements, developed a plan that addresses pedestrian safety issues and increases walkability around the Spicket River Greenway, which is currently under construction.

Lawrence was established as one of the earliest planned industrial cities in the mid-1800s with a thriving industry based on textile mills. Today, it is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts and has the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in the Commonwealth. On the surface, the Spicket River Greenway is a recreational path where residents can walk, run or bike. But Davidson and Drummond learned that this particular greenway means so much more than that to Lawrence. In addition to creating a linear park, this three-mile long “emerald bracelet” connects a variety of open spaces and neighborhoods, helps the community achieve the dual goals of riverfront restoration and neighborhood revitalization, remediates a contaminated brownfield, and reduces chronic flooding. Now Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston are working to link this area’s schools and major employers to the new Greenway. Without sidewalks or crosswalks, it will be difficult and potentially dangerous for pedestrians to access the path.

Davidson and Drummond developed a plan that highlights safe pedestrian routes and proposes design solutions to connect people by foot from throughout Lawrence to the Greenway. This plan is a critical component in the partnership between WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence, and it will help direct future initiatives of the City of Lawrence’s Mayor’s Health Task Force.

After meeting with the WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence staff, they assessed the existing conditions of routes connecting schools and other key institutions, such as Lawrence General Hospital, with the Greenway. Then they identified problem areas—dangerous intersections and places where sidewalks are in disrepair—and mapped them. They also created a list of recommendations that will improve access to and from the Greenway.

Davidson and Drummond are also working on interpretive signage for the Greenway to enhance trail users’ experiences by telling stories about sites along the Greenway. They conducted research at the Lawrence History Center, combing through achives, newspaper articles, photos, postcards, and oral archives to develop signage that will be located at sites including the Arlington Mills and the former location of the Oxford Paper company.

Moving forward, the work Davidson and Drummond have produced will help guide WalkBoston’s work with Groundwork Lawrence in making Lawrence a more walkable, livable community.

{ 0 comments }

There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything your company needs to get done. But give them four short weeks and MIT students can offer impressive results on some of those more challenging projects.

Here are four examples, written by alumni, of how their companies sought out students for a win-win experience: students discovered real-world applications of their classroom learnings while alumni benefitted from the special expertise students brought to their work.

This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

Guest blogger: Adam Blake MBA ’11, marketing director, ThriveHive
My initial exposure to the MIT Student-Alumni Externship Program came as a participant during my first semester as an MBA student. I instantly fell in love with the program because of the opportunity it provided to gain exposure to not only a new industry, but also a new culture, a challenging project, and everything else that comes from working in a new company.

From left: Max Faingezicht MBA '11, Deborah Chen '14, Xenia Antipova '13, Brent Wu MBA '13, Adam Blake MBA '11.

From left: Max Faingezicht MBA ’11, Deborah Chen ’14, Xenia Antipova ’13, Brent Wu MBA ’13, and Adam Blake MBA ’11.

Fast forward a couple years, and when the opportunity to be a sponsor for the program arose, my classmate and coworker Max Faingezicht MBA ’11 and I jumped at the chance to sponsor some current students. After the MBA program we both joined a small-business-marketing software startup in Cambridge called ThriveHive, and we knew there were an almost limitless number of projects we could put together for current students. We posted a couple of relatively broad job descriptions to try to attract the most creative and motivated students. After meeting with a few applicants, we designed projects that we felt would match the passion of the students while simultaneously meeting the real needs of our startup. We don’t have the resources to waste time with students just hanging around the office, so everyone had to be working on important projects.

Our externs were Brent Wu MBA ’13, Deborah Chen ’14, and Xenia Antipova ’13. Brent, a first-year Sloanie, made use of his business background to put together a go-to market kit for one of our target markets. Deborah, a Course 6 sophomore who has already acquired some strong database skills, tackled a very challenging project centered on optimizing the complex backend of our software. Xenia, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in architecture, used her analytical design skills to devise better ways for us to visualize our customer facing data.

Startups never have enough bandwidth to get everything done on the wish list, and finding enough smart and motivated people to solve problems is always a challenge. With the addition of our externs, January was full of energy and progress. Three or four weeks is a short amount of time for students to come up to speed and actually accomplish something, but it’s absolutely doable. We’re looking forward to participating again next year.

Guest blogger: Vesta Marks ’00, portfolio manager, UCM Partners, LP
This was the third time UCM Partners has participated in the Student/Alumni Externship Program, and I can say with confidence that this experience was our best thus far. The most impactful difference was that we were able to host two students this year—Diana Hsieh ’13 and Michael Farid ’14—as opposed to just one.

From left to right Vesta Marks '00, Course 18; Diana Hsieh '13, Course 14; Michael Farid '14, Course 2; Jay Menozzi '85, Course 6; and Boris Peresechensky.

From left: Vesta Marks ’00, Course 18; Diana Hsieh ’13, Course 14; Michael Farid ’14, Course 2; Jay Menozzi ’85, Course 6; and Boris Peresechensky.

Within the first two days, I was reminded how quickly MIT students self-organize into a team dynamic that fosters collaboration, idea sharing, and specialization. This ethos propelled our externs along the learning curve much more quickly than if they would have been working singly. It was impressive to see how quickly the team-oriented approach took root and observing it provided me with a pleasant reminder of the culture that exists on campus. [click to continue…]

{ 0 comments }

Guest blogger: Brad Edelman ’93, CTO, Fingerprint Digital, Inc.

Grad student Carrie Cai with teammates at the Fingerprint Digital office in San Francisco.

Grad student Carrie Cai with teammates at the Fingerprint Digital office in San Francisco.

When I was an undergraduate at MIT, I learned a lot from my coursework but look back with a special fondness on my UROP and summer internships. MIT excels in the theoretical, and students who combine that with some hands-on experience and real-world pragmatism make amazing employees when they enter the workplace. As such, it’s always been a joy for me to host MIT externships and summer internships. This IAP was no exception. At Fingerprint Digital, we hosted Carrie Cai, currently earning her PhD in computer science at MIT and already an MA in education from Stanford. What an amazing extern for our company in the mobile educational games space!

In just three weeks, Carrie had a wide range of experiences. She worked with our engineers to understand our software development kit (SDK) and did a great job improving our written developer integration guide. At the same time, she developed from start to finish a Hangman word game to use as a sample application to include with the SDK. She also had the opportunity to attend outside meetings with our development partners and gain insight into how technical decisions are influenced by business interests and economic realities. And she offered lots of feedback and ideas for improvement in both the UI/UX and curriculum in our upcoming title, Kid Explorer. She even got exposure to our meetings with current and potential investors.

It was refreshing to experience Carrie’s youthful idealism and can-do attitude. We had a fun discussion where Carrie couldn’t understand why basic audio/video capabilities are taking so long to become true cross-browser, cross-platform standards. Frankly, she’s right. It’s a bit hard to believe that these things can take years when on a technical basis, a solution is not only within reach but already robustly implemented. And we could go from there to talking about Fourier analysis and speech recognition and even a tangential detour into cryptography. She says I remind her of the intense MIT undergraduates—to which I say, right back at her! It makes me reminisce for those days when information came at me like a fire hose. MIT keep up the good work!

The externship flew by, and we took Carrie out to lunch on her last day; we wanted to send her off with a little celebration. We got back from lunch at about 2:00 p.m. and she decided to start a new project. Now that’s initiative! In her last four hours in the office, Carrie produced a video showing step-by-step in XCode how easy it is to add the Fingerprint platform to an iOS application. Her idea, her script, her production—and done in a matter of hours on her last day. The power of youth and the amazing capabilities of an MIT student—what a combination!

Carrie became not just a productive contributor but also a true member of our team. We’re really going to miss having her around.

*Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

{ 0 comments }

Energy research has become an increasingly important part of the MIT culture, and with students now pursuing minors in energy studies, they are often on the lookout for practical ways to use what they’ve learned. Some of the most fruitful experiences happen with the help of alumni.

Here are three stories of alumni welcoming MIT students into their energy-focused companies to learn about different aspects of the industry and the benefits the students offered in return.

This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

Guest blogger: Jon Garrity ’11, product strategy specialist, GE Energy
Digital Energy, GE Energy’s Atlanta-based smart grid business, hosted two externs over IAP. Fan Wei ’12 and Jorge Moreno, a grad student in the System Design and Management program,  spent four weeks developing analytics around distributed solar energy. Fan’s mathematics background combined with Jorge’s considerable experience in the energy industry made them a formidable team. The first day we gave them project and company background, and by day two, they were off and running.

From left: Externs Fan Wei '12, grad student Jorge Moreno, and host Jon Garrity '11

From left: Externs Fan Wei ’12, grad student Jorge Moreno, and host Jon Garrity ’11.

Our utility customers have challenges integrating distributed generation (for example, rooftop solar installations) into the grid. It isn’t easy to see how much energy all these distributed resources are generating at a given time. The intermittency of certain distributed generation can lead to reliability issues, like flickering. Fan and Jorge, in their short time with us, did an extensive literature review, collected data, and built multiple models for our customers. These models will provide utilities with information on distributed solar generation, improving planning and customer engagement.

With only four weeks to complete the project, the team spent many hours fine-tuning their models and finishing their final presentation. The externship culminated in a presentation to our Smart Grid Solutions business leader. There were jokes before the meeting that “MIT’s reputation is on the line,” but Fan and Jorge delivered an excellent pitch and left everyone impressed. Fortunately, Fan and Jorge were able to experience some culture too—enjoying real Southern barbeque and touring downtown Atlanta. Both agreed that Georgia is a great place to enjoy IAP, especially during one 71-degree afternoon.

Having participated in the externship program as an extern several years ago, it was great to stay involved in the program from the employer side. Both Fan and Jorge jumped right into the project and had a very productive four weeks. We’re looking forward to staying in touch and also to hosting more externs next year.

 Guest blogger: Jacqueline Berger ’89, president of APPRISE
“Welcome to APPRISE!” we said to Kimberly Li ’12 when she walked into our office in Princeton, New Jersey, on a cold January morning. We had been looking forward to introducing Kimberly to our staff and engaging her in various aspects of our evaluation research. Little did we know how much of an impact Kimberly would have in our office in such a short time. [click to continue…]

{ 0 comments }

Guest blogger: Orlando Soto ’05

Orlando Soto '05 guides Vanessa Treviño '13 in a project.

Orlando Soto '05 guides Vanessa Treviño '13 in a project.

When I learned that MIT was reaching out to alumni and trying to match undergraduate students with externship opportunities, I jumped at opportunity to serve as a host. I knew Goddard Technologies, the engineering and design consulting company I work for in Boston’s north shore, would provide exactly the kind of fast-paced, dynamic environment that MIT undergrads need in order to prevent their high-octane neurons from turning to mush.

From the beginning, I was very excited about the quality of all the applicants in the program. The difficult part was actually choosing a “lucky” first-choice candidate from the pool of excellent undergraduates—I actually ended up staying in touch with some other undergrads just in case we have any summer internship openings. In the end, Vanessa Treviño ’13 became our extern.

I had warned Vanessa that we do things a little differently here at Goddard – we would load her up with responsibility until she cried uncle, we would encourage her to lead discussions and participate in brainstorms, and we would expect her to design and build prototypes and then show us how awesome they actually work. None of this seemed to faze Vanessa, and I really felt like I did not have to hold back once we were in the throes of engineering and design.

The first project I had her work on involved putting some of her engineering theory to real-world use: calculating maximum bending stress and deflection of a medical device under different loading configurations. True to MIT MechE nature, she didn’t even break a sweat when tackling straight theory. “OK, so you’re good with numbers. Now go write the report,” I said to Vanessa.  Off she went and wrote the foundations of a well-written report that came back exceedingly well reviewed by our client.

Vanessa Treviño '13 hard at work on a project.

Vanessa Treviño '13 hard at work on a prototype.

So I decided to challenge Vanessa on a front where I thought she would be a little raw: practical engineering in the context of actual product design and development.

No compartmentalized academic problems here—make too many assumptions for the purposes of framing your little academic “beam-bending” problem and you’re sunk: So it’s a structural beam in bending…did you consider friction? What about fatigue strength of the material? Did you forget to consider that this operates in a saline environment? Did you remember to consider coatings and finishes that may let you get away with a material that would otherwise be unusable in its raw state? What about wear characteristics? Oh, and you do realize that this component is part of a real product which will be sold for profit, so you didn’t design it out of super-awesome-expensivite—did you?

These considerations threw Vanessa a little more off-balance, but she was able to learn and adapt very quickly, even making some suggestions I had not yet considered.

The realization that in engineering practice there could be hundreds of correct answers that are each different in terms of how well they address the underlying problem whereas in many academic mechanical engineering classes you are required to show your work such that the path to the one correct solution is documented was the one lesson I hoped to teach Vanessa as part of this externship. Sometimes finding the best answer requires some mental engineering gymnastics that can only come with practical knowledge and experience (read: mistakes).

I think she got it.

*Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

{ 1 comment }

Guest blogger: Cole Shaw, grad student in Engineering Systems Division
Externship* host: Josh Schuler SM ’00

Blind users testing out a prototype for a bus-stop improvement

Blind users testing out a prototype for a bus-stop improvement as part of the product design workshop Imagínate.

They say that your dreams change as you get older. When I was (much) younger, I dreamed of retiring early and spending many years lying on the beach working on my tan. As I got a little older and got hit by a small dose of reality, I thought, early retirement at forty does not seem common; maybe I should find a job where I get to sit on the beach a lot, like a travel writer.  A stronger dose of reality later, I am still chasing my ever-changing dreams—but I actually got pretty close during my IAP externship.

My externship this year was with the Lemelson-MIT office. No, they did not move to beachfront property (they are, sadly, still in Building 10). I actually did my externship work from Mexico. ¡¡MÉXICO!! Okay, I was not at the beach, but it was warm and a step in the right direction.

One hundred thousand US dollars. This is the value of the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation…not my externship stipend. My job was to perform due diligence research on the five finalists for this prestigious award—I verified the global impact of their work and tried to anticipate the questions that would come from a national jury. I honed my research skills and dug into their various fields of work. Along the way, I learned a lot about international development, and I was impressed by each and every one of the finalists.

Luckily, given the nature of my externship, the Lemelson-MIT office allowed me to work remotely. But I was not in Mexico on vacation, and I did not work on my tan. I was actually juggling two other projects—work for my research advisor and running a product design workshop for university students.

In the product design workshop, called Imagínate, our international team of facilitators helped shape the dreams of 17 Mexican university students from four local universities. In one week, these students worked through a user-oriented product design curriculum, which included two visits each to two user communities (a school for the blind and a marginalized community) and professional development workshops from multinationals GE Mexico and Mabe. At the end of the workshop, three teams presented their prototypes and work to an audience of 60 people. Everyone had a blast—students said they had never done anything similar before, the audience was impressed, and we look forward to running a longer workshop in the summer!

Overall, IAP was a great experience, and sometimes IAP itself felt like a dream. I met interesting and inspirational people; I worked on multiple, exciting projects; I learned a lot. Maybe retirement is not in my immediate future, but right now I do not mind.

caption

The workshop Imagínate was organized by Shaw, MIT alumni, and Peace Corps volunteers in conjunction with the Mexican university CICATA (part of the National Polytechnic Institute). Shown from left: Maria Elena Vazquez, professor at Universidad Politécnica de Querétaro; Mary Masterman ’10; Sarah Bruce, Peace Corps Mexico volunteer; Enrique Garcia, professor at CICATA; Cole Shaw, MIT grad student; Drew Zoller, Peace Corps Mexico volunteer; Jorge Huerta, director general of CICATA; and Francisco Valenzuela, student at Nebraska Wesleyan and the Monterrey Institute of Technology (ITESM), a Mexican university.

*Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

{ 0 comments }

Guest bloggers: Carolyn Coyle ’13, Larissa Kunz ’15, Maggie Kane ’15, and Knox Millsaps SM ’87, PhD ’92

From left: Maggie Kane '15, Carolyn Coyle '13, and Larissa Kunz '15

From left: Maggie Kane ’15, Carolyn Coyle ’13, and Larissa Kunz ’15.

Three MIT students, Carolyn Coyle (mechanical engineering), Larissa Kunz (chemical engineering) , and Maggie Kane (aero/astro), spent the month of January completing an externship in Monterey, California, working at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). Their extern sponsor* was Professor Knox Millsaps SM ’87, PhD ’92, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The first two days were spent getting checked in and touring the department’s extensive research facilities and laboratories in power, energy and propulsion, space and satellite systems, guidance, navigation and control of autonomous vehicles, material science, and applied and experimental mechanics. Many faculty were involved in showcasing their labs and thesis students’ research. Carolyn, Larissa, and Maggie then selected research projects to work on that aligned with their interests.

Carolyn:
I worked with Professor Millsaps and Professor Jonathan Phillips to create a thermodynamic model of a Trident missile gas discharge system that predicts flow temperature and pressure behaviors as functions of time. I spent most of my time in the computer lab, combing my knowledge of thermal fluids engineering and technical computing to write code that solves a system of coupled, differential equations in Engineering Equation Solver (EES), a processing program with built-in real fluid property tables. The model will be used as a template that can be modified and used to characterize many specific projects in the future.

From left: Larissa Kunz '15, Carolyn Coyle '13, and Maggie Kane '15

From left: Larissa Kunz ’15, Carolyn Coyle ’13, and Maggie Kane ’15.

Larissa:
I worked on a diesel engine in the marine propulsion laboratory. I gained CAD experience designing an adaptor to secure a pressure sensor in the head of the engine. This sensor is to be used in the research of the combustion of biofuels and in the use of a transient plasma ignition system in this diesel engine. Doug Seivwright, with whom I was working directly, also had me help set up a data acquisition system to record sensor measurements electronically. I was fortunate enough to get some hands-on experience as well, when I helped put the engine back together after it was modified for experimentation and participated in a Cold Spray Unit training in a neighboring laboratory.

Maggie:
I worked at the turbo propulsion lab creating a program to facilitate the importation of data from a program in MATLAB to Solid Edge to expedite the iteration of splintered blade axial rotor compressors to allow for easier analysis of fluid-dynamic properties. This program will be used by graduate students at NPS as they work towards a design that will allow for greater efficiency in airplanes. I also had the opportunity to tour the facilities, including the Turbo Lab’s wind tunnel. I was lucky enough to be able to learn about MATLAB in a practical environment, as it is a skill that I will continue to use throughout my time at MIT.

In addition to working in our respective labs at NPS, Professor Millsaps took us to visit other nearby research facilities. We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, where Jim Bellingham ’84, SM ’84, PhD ’88, the director of research and CTO, led us on a tour during which we learned about the development of vehicles to remotely explore the oceans. We also visited the marine meteorology division of the Monterey branch of the Naval Research Laboratory, one of the world leaders in numerical weather prediction. Simon Cheng, the lab’s technical director, and various experts presented about specialized weather forecasting, advanced algorithms, and modeling techniques. Our externship concluded with a farewell barbeque in the beautiful California sunshine.

*Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

{ 0 comments }

Guest blogger: Jennifer Hope ’12
Externship* host: Dr. Tony Abner ’77—Read Abner’s account of this experience

Dr. Tony Abner '77, Tiffany Chen '12, and Jennifer Hope '12 at Mount Auburn hospital

From left: Dr. Tony Abner ’77, Tiffany Chen ’12, and Jennifer Hope ’12 at Mount Auburn hospital.

I’m not one of those pre-meds with a revelation story. I don’t have a captivating tale about the exact moment when my prekindergarten self decided that I would one day become a doctor. I don’t have a touching anecdote about how the aging grandmother or the mentor and teacher who was diagnosed with cancer made me realize that the only option for me was a job where I could make sick people well. I haven’t been shadowing doctors since prepubescence, and I didn’t work in a top-notch biomedical lab throughout high school. To put it simply, I don’t fit the super intense MIT premed stereotype.

So as I entered Mount Auburn Hospital for the first day of my externship in the radiation oncology department, my too-long chemistry lab coat tucked under my arm, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was my first real taste of what it would be like to be a practicing physician. Was it going to be too hectic? Could I really handle seeing sick patient after sick patient?

But as soon as Dr. Abner arrived, my fellow extern, Tiffany Chen ’12, and I were swept right into his daily routine, and I didn’t have time to worry anymore. He opened this filled-to-the-brim, brightly color-coded schedule and began explaining each case to us. For each person he gave the name, sex, age, type of cancer, occupation, and some unique, fascinating piece of trivia—this man translates books from Welsh as a hobby, this gentleman had polio as a child but played basketball throughout most of his adult life, this woman is a Belgian-born French chemist who came to work at Harvard and married a famous physical chemist.

Dr. Tony Abner '77, Jennifer Hope '12, and Tiffany Chen '12 at Mount Auburn hospital

Dr. Tony Abner ’77 teaching Jennifer Hope ’12 (center) and Tiffany Chen ’12.

I admired Dr. Abner’s interest is each patient as a person. In the examination room, he asked the same questions methodically—How do you feel? Any pain?—answered the patients’ concerns and explained treatment options with a regularity that comes from years of practice, and performed the same physical examinations each time—but he also asked if each was still employed, asked about hobbies and life, and didn’t ignore that this patient with this illness was so much more than just a body that needed to be fixed.

Dr. Abner’s lessons weren’t limited to the exam room. He explained to us some of the financial and political aspects of being part of a hospital (“This is the stuff they don’t tell you in school”). He talked to us openly about malpractice lawsuits, insurance hassles, and how specialized private clinics can hurt larger hospitals. He taught us about the imperfections and consequences of clinical trials, and why some journal articles had to be taken with a grain of salt.

The externship was an amazing experience for me. I had the opportunity to be immersed completely in the life of a physician for weeks, from routine appointments to treatment planning to meetings. I saw just how much collaboration goes into the practice of medicine. I went from looking at a CT scan and not understanding where one blotchy grey mass ended and the next began to being able to identify organs and see where the anomaly was. I saw my first surgery—a heart valve replacement—and felt a sense of awe both at what an amazing machine the body is and for the surgeon who can heal with the knife.

In short, the externship gave me a sip of what a career in medicine can be like, and I’m thirsty for more.

*Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.

{ 0 comments }