Investigative Studies program helps rising junior with internship at Yale

Biochemistry student Cameron Dowiak's head shot

Oftentimes, great opportunities are a result of both what you know as well as who you know.

For Cameron Dowiak ’19 (Burgettstown, Pennsylvania), getting the opportunity to spend the summer working in a lab at Yale was the culminating result of her own impressive scientific background and a helpful alumni connection.

It was Brendan Adkinson ’16, who reached out to Dr. Kevin Pate, McCoy Professor of Chemistry, to see if there were any current Marietta students who would be a good fit to intern in the lab he works in at Yale. That lab, overseen by Dr. Alan Anticevic, is part of the Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry.

Pate knew that selecting the best fit had to be a thoughtful and deliberate decision.

“The expectations placed on that student were very high, so it meant that I was looking for an exceptional student to refer to him,” he said.

As it so happened, Dowiak, a Biochemistry major at Marietta, was not only impressive academically but she also had prior experience with the subject matter of the study the chosen intern would be assisting with.

Though her background working with kids with mental disabilities and autism was preferred since the intern-assisted study dealt with autism, Dowiak still had to go through all of the traditional steps of applying for an internship. After the submission of a CV and a phone interview, the position was finally hers.

While Dowiak put in the work to earn the internship experience at Yale, Pate also acknowledged that it was after Adkinson requested Anticevic make a position available for a Marietta student if he/she could secure their own funding that the opportunity itself became readily available for a deserving student.

Dowiak credits a program on campus for providing her with the financial means necessary to make this internship opportunity a reality.

“I applied for Investigative Studies though Marietta,” she said. “I was awarded funding through that to help cover some of the costs of living in New Haven (Connecticut) for the summer. I would not have been able to go after this opportunity had it not been for the Investigative Studies fellowship money.”  

Both the venue of the internship as well as Dowiak just completing her sophomore year are noteworthy details of this student experience.

“I think it goes without saying that the opportunity for one of our students to spend the summer working on the front lines of a project as important as this at one of the premiere universities in the world is fantastic,” Pate said. “Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs are exceedingly competitive, even at ‘lower tier’ schools, and while this isn’t an REU, it effectively serves the same purpose. For Cameron to get this experience, especially after her sophomore year, is outstanding. Most sophomores have a difficult time getting an experience like this anywhere. The overwhelming majority of REUs, and other summer research opportunities, go to students who have completed their junior years of college.”

Over the summer, Dowiak is looking forward to interacting with and learning from a wide array of top professionals in their respective fields.

“While at the lab, I hope to observe and learn from some MDs, Ph.D.s, and MD/Ph.D.s as they go about the various tasks related to research and the process of conducting it, including designing studies, grant writing, analyzing the data, drawing conclusions, and writing and editing journal articles,” she said. “I'm looking forward to assisting with what they do, and learning more about that side of research.” 

What’s more, with much of the work being very hands-on, she will also have the chance to develop her clinical skills.

“I will get to run participants through the current studies that are being conducted right now. I’m able to gather the majority of the data from start to finish — from the patient’s first phone screen, to scheduling all of their appointments prior scan, and, starting in the near future, the MRI scan itself,” she said. “So far, I’ve been able to give a variety of mental health assessments, computerized testing, and interviews to controls and subjects alike in the prior scan appointments. I also get to observe the psychiatric diagnostic interviews, and the pre-scan physicals.”

Dowiak hopes to soon be able to start running some of the less involved scans herself and looks to be able to conduct most of them by summer’s end.

Getting to work in the lab at Yale is also offering Dowiak the chance to witness and experience some of the broader concepts discussed in her classes at Marietta up close.

“It’s one thing to read about the symptoms of OCD or schizophrenia, and it’s another to interview a patient who is exhibiting such symptoms,” she said. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then seeing symptoms in action must be worth a few thousand. I have many moments where I’ll see something, or one of the members of the lab will explain something to me, and then I go, ‘Oh! I remember reading this in my textbook. This is what the authors were trying to describe. This makes so much more sense now.’ ”

Such a virtuous cycle of building upon studying and experiences will continue into the fall semester as Dowiak starts her own projects with the chemistry department at Marietta.  

“Seeing first-hand how full-time researchers with decades of experience set up their studies will prove to be really beneficial,” she said. “There are so many little components I would not have known prior to this summer to consider when designing my own experiments. They are innovative when it comes to accounting for error, or finding ways to reduce it. The validity and trustworthiness of one’s data is, obviously, of utmost importance when it comes to research. Now I have an entire box of tools to bring back to Marietta to ensure the integrity of my results that I would not otherwise have.”

One such tool Dowiak hopes to acquire is one not many would venture to guess would be so important in a medical lab: computer coding.

“Many of the researchers here have to write their own programs to analyze data since it is such a new field,” she said. “I’m hoping to pick up that skill and become fluent in a computer language so I can apply it to any future research I’m involved in.”

The benefits of this summer will likely continue on even as Dowiak looks to her future after graduation.

Pate said this opportunity will open additional doors for Dowiak as she goes to apply for medical school.

“Not only will she have a stellar academic record from Marietta to highlight in her applications, but she will also have an incredible research experience at Yale to talk about,” he said. “While her academic record and experiences at Marietta will almost assuredly guarantee her entry to medical schools, I believe that what she gains from this research experience will ensure her acceptance to some of the top medical schools in the country. Time will tell, but I have faith that she is headed to great things in her life, and this summer research opportunity is a huge stepping stone toward that future success.”

Hearing from Dowiak about what she looks to take away from her experience this summer, there is little doubt that she is working to further develop an outlook that will help her find her own successes long after graduating from Marietta. 

“The No. 1 thing I hope to bring from Yale is the complete dedication, focus, commitment, and work ethic they have and harness that same attitude and passion into the things I do at Marietta and my future beyond Marietta,” she said. “The entire workplace culture here can’t be considered work because everyone loves what they do, and they pursue it with such an excitement and enthusiasm. I really hope I leave with the skill of being able to inspire others in a way that brings out the best in them through one of my passions. I have been inspired by the individuals here, and I hope to one day be that person who can share their zeal for something in such an infectious, uplifting way.”