The Internship Experience of a Lifetime

The Internship Experience of a Lifetime

by Morgan Faith ’24

Lydia Story ’24, a biochemistry major and Disert Scholar at Wilson College, took the opportunity of a lifetime over the summer as an intern at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University in New York.

In her first year at Wilson, Lydia’s degree program was focused more on biochemical engineering. By her senior year, Lydia had become increasingly interested in medicinal plants and how spices such as garlic or cinnamon might have health benefits. “I have always been fascinated by medicinal plants – even when I was a child,” Lydia says.

Associate Professor Kathryn Sarachan, Lydia’s academic advisor and mentor, encouraged Lydia to take an internship during her first year. Lydia felt she was not ready to take the big step of staying away from home during the summer.

A big leap

As time passed and Lydia continued her degree program, she won the Margaret Criswell Disert Honor Scholarship in the spring of 2023. At this point, she felt she had developed her lab skills, her professional communication skills, and her connections with Wilson College professors. It was the perfect time to grow her knowledge and confidence through the internship.

While at Cornell University, Lydia worked under Hillary Fischer, a postdoctoral scientist, in the Plant Genome Research Program, funded by the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture.

“I analyzed small molecules present in aphid saliva from five different aphid species that had different host plant preferences,” Lydia says. “Using liquid chromatography and mass spectroscopy, I was able to compare the saliva across the species and host plants to see if any metabolites were shared across all the samples. The composition of the saliva was used to identify metabolites that could potentially influence the host- aphid relationship.”

The Cornell experience

Even though she came from a smaller college compared to those of many of her fellow interns, Lydia felt she made great connections with professors, scientists, and other students across the country. She shares her thoughts on coming from a smaller school: “At first, being one of the only students from a small liberal arts college felt somewhat isolating. Soon, I realized that it did not matter where the other students came from because we were all there for a shared experience and to enjoy researching together. I felt very proud being able to represent Wilson College and show that passion and application are really what make a good researcher.”

Though no Wilson College professors were involved in this internship, Professor Sarachan helped Lydia to embrace this opportunity to expand her knowledge as a Wilson College student. Lydia was able to make new connections with other professors across the country, further develop her interest in medicinal plants, and find her ultimate dream degree path for her doctoral program.

“My summer experience at BTI was enjoyable personally and professionally,” Lydia says. I was able to expand my network to well-established scientists and fellow interns. Getting to practice important lab skills in a new environment was rewarding and encouraging.”

Finding her passion

After expanding her networks and developing her skills, Lydia has found her passion in plant biochemistry. Upon graduating from Wilson in the spring of 2024, Lydia hopes to apply to Michigan State University, which is known for its plant biochemistry program.

As she pursues her doctoral degree, Lydia hopes to bring awareness to medicinal plants such as cinnamon, garlic, and even aloe vera and how these natural substances may be used to treat patients. Ultimately, she wants to promote awareness of medicinal plants and their potential health benefits and conduct research that helps educate patients about what’s in their medications. Though she may not be treating patients directly, Lydia will still be making a significant positive contribution with medical research on plants and herbs.

Growing confidence

Throughout her time at Wilson, Lydia has begun to appreciate her passion for plant biochemistry even more. She reflects on how her professors have been invested not only in her academic success but also her personal success. “It is nice when someone notices your potential but also walks along your academic journey with you,” she says.

Ultimately, the internship taught Lydia to step out of her comfort zone. It’s helped her feel assured of her degree choice and confident in her skills, prepared to follow her passion in the plant biochemistry field. “Don’t keep yourself from opportunities just because they cause you discomfort,” she says.

Looking back on her summer of learning, growing, and finding her passion, Lydia encourages other Wilson students to ask for guidance when it comes to new job opportunities or internships: “Push past comfort zones and experience the world. There are no limits for dreamers.”


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