Learning how to think like a scientist and grieve like a human being: my research experience at the Gates Center

By: Ellie Mackintosh

When I arrived at the Gates Center, I was at a personal inflection point. Academically, I had just finished my first year at Davidson and was beginning to entertain the idea that I wanted to be a professor. My biology and chemistry classes had affirmed my love for science, and I was ready to gain experience in a laboratory setting.

At the same time, I was processing the sudden and tragic loss of my godfather to a heart attack. I share this because it provides important context to my research experience. I didn’t begin my internship with dogged ambition or assuredness. Rather, I showed up adrift in the tumult, fragility, and devastation of an all-encompassing grief.

My time at the Gates Center, therefore, became the stage for both professional and personal development. I learned how to articulate my emotional challenges to the PI (Principal Investigator, or the scientist in charge of the lab). She worked with me to set a new schedule, adjust our research expectations, and provide the flexibility I needed.

Simultaneously, I gained exposure to a wide range of exciting research techniques. PCR, gel electrophoresis, necropsies, and western blots became physical practices instead of simply theories in a textbook. I observed surgeries and attended weekly seminars where research scientists presented their work. Because I was considering a career in medicine, the internship arranged for me to shadow a physician at the Anschutz Medical Campus. The directors of the program also organized group outings and projects that grounded us in the wider Denver community.

While I expected the Gates Center Summer Internship Program to change the way I look at research, I did not anticipate how it would impact my self-perception. From the moment I started in the lab, I felt like a scientist. My curiosity was valued, my contributions were validated, and my presence, especially as a young person navigating grief, was affirmed. The program helped me find the confidence I needed to continue pursuing a career in research, confidence upon which I’m currently drawing as I apply to chemistry PhD programs.

I will always be grateful for my time at the Gates Center. I’m thrilled that more Davidson students will have the chance to benefit from such an extraordinary opportunity.

CLICK HERE, to learn more about about the Gates Center Summer Internship Program.

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