HudsonAlpha internship experience propels Buckhorn High grad to STEM career path

BioTrain internship program offers students real-world experience and workforce development


Oh, the Places You’ll Go! This is the title of a popular Dr. Seuss book that is often given to young people as an inspiration for the many paths their lives might take. Many students search for the perfect internship to give them valuable experiences. HudsonAlpha’s BioTrain internship program provides meaningful internship opportunities to college students each summer.

In 2013 when Christina Cooley was just a freshman in high school, she began to think about her future. She enjoyed the life sciences and working in a lab. So, as a junior when she learned about an opportunity to intern at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, she jumped at the chance. 

The BioTrain program was an internship program open to area high school and undergraduate students to provide them with an opportunity to be part of an in-depth research project and to inspire them to seek careers in biotechnology and related fields. During her time in the BioTrain program, Christina worked on the “Sample to Sequence” project. 

“It was an introduction for us high school students,” said Cooley. “We collected soil samples and extracted DNA from the bacteria in the soil with the intent to sequence their genetic codes. It taught us a lot of basic laboratory skills not introduced in most college courses and about processing samples. The professional development skills have also proved invaluable.”

Throughout the experience, students generated web-based portfolios to document the methods, results and implications. The portfolio pages allowed students to cite the work as part of a career portfolio documenting their research skills to potential employers or institutes of higher education.

After completing the internship program, Cooley, a graduate of Madison County Public Schools Buckhorn High School, then went on to the University of Alabama in Birmingham to major in General Biology with a Molecular Concentration. During her time at UAB, she was able to expand her lab experiences and skills by working in labs on campus.

Upon receiving her bachelor’s degree, Christina knew where she wanted her next step to be. She says she had always admired HudsonAlpha as an organization because of the collaborative, open culture and how well it takes care of its employees. A year after graduation, Christina found a position in the Su Lab at HudsonAlpha which focuses on synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer in children and young adults. 

In the Su Lab, Christina is responsible for many tasks including preparing membranes for scanning, making gels and running them for western blots, and even assisting with grant applications and publications as needed. 

“Internships are a great way to gain experience, network and get your foot in the door,” said Cooley. “The advice I have for students is that there is not just one path, but to explore everything – you never know what might spark your interest. Keep an open mind and believe that, so long as you’re doing the best you can, you’ll get where you’re supposed to be” 

Today, the BioTrain program accepts Alabama undergraduate and graduate students (an applicant must have graduated high school and currently be enrolled in an accredited college or university in the state of Alabama OR be a permanent resident of the state of Alabama and currently enrolled in an accredited college or university in a different state) for the 9-week summer internship experience. Interns work in computer science, marketing/communications, digital design, education, economic development, as well as research-based laboratory work. Applications for the 2020 program are being accepted January 15- February 15, and can be found by clicking here.

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