Like many students, Shannon Silva, an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, saw her summer research plans dissipate with the COVID pandemic. But all was not lost: Her internship at the Gerstner Sloan Kettering transitioned into a virtual program, and she was able to connect weekly with a breadth swatch of the biotech community through the Amgen Scholars Summer Science Series (S3).
“In a normal summer, I would not have had access to the wealth of information that I gained through attending the Amgen Scholars S3,” Silva explains. “Instead of focusing on what I had lost in experience due to the pandemic, attending the S3 sessions enabled me to interact with Amgen executives, academic researchers, and innovative researchers leading their own biotech start-up companies — professionals who I would not have met or had access to their stories without the online format of the sessions.”
A 2018 Duke University Amgen Scholars alumna, Silva is planning to apply to biomedical science graduate programs with a focus in cancer biology. She says that S3 excites her even more for the graduate student path.
Indeed, S3 was a virtual outlet for inspiration and information this summer for the more than 550 people who attended panel discussions and lectures over the course of a month. Conceived as a way to engage Amgen Scholars who were deferred this year due to the pandemic, S3 grew to become a way to connect the Amgen Scholars and the broader biotech community. The series included 30 virtual sessions featuring alumni, faculty, and guests globally speaking on everything from life in academia and biotech to professional skills building.
“Although we have had to suspend the program for summer 2020 and defer the selected Scholars participation until our next cycle, we very much wanted to connect the community, including Scholars, alumni, and our amazing faculty mentors in a meaningful way,” says Global Program Office director Gregory A. Llacer. “ We are thrilled with the positive feedback and are looking at how the S3 model might fit into our traditional summer Amgen Scholars programming going forward.”
These talks have reminded me that there is not a unique path that can bring me to my future goal, and that having doubts or uncertainties during the process is something that everyone may face at some point of their life.”David Andreu
For many alumni, the S3 talks gave them new perspectives on their educational and career paths. “These talks have reminded me that there is not a unique path that can bring me to my future goal, and that having doubts or uncertainties during the process is something that everyone may face at some point of their life,” says David Andreu, a 2019 Amgen Scholar at the Karolinska Institutet. “Careers are rarely linear, no decision is final, and every step will be very influenced by your experience in the previous ones.”
After his Amgen Scholars summer, Andreu — more confident than ever in his research skills — completed a bachelor’s thesis at EMBL Barcelona and is now considering returning to Karolinska next year to complete his master’s thesis. Interacting with other program alumni in S3 was enriching for him: “I was able to come out with thoughts and reasonings that are more typical of people who are in later stages in their career,” he says. “This not only helps me make more educated choices but also makes me feel more mature and informed when interacting with my supervisors and colleagues.”
For many deferred Amgen Scholars, S3 gave them a unique glimpse of the research world. “Even though the lectures were held online and our internships got deferred this experience has provided me with a needed scientific and academic frame of reference,” says Ajla Džanko, who was supposed to do her Amgen Scholars summer at ETH Zurich.
This series has allowed us deferred scholars to have an enthralling prelude of what we will be experiencing in 2021.Ajla Džanko
An undergraduate at International Burch University in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Džanko says that the S3 panels helped give her new advice and perspectives on a research path. “This especially rings true for me as a student from Bosnia and Herzegovina, due to there not being resources that allow for such ways to participate in successful, interactive educational programs,” she says.
A major goal of S3 was to show Scholars the various paths available to them in the sciences. “It provided me with a foundation to start my own journey in academia and has inculcated positivity in my own research,” says Sakina Amin, a deferred scholar for the University of Cambridge program.
Specifically, the summer virtual programming has motivated Amin, an undergraduate at the University of Leeds, to pursue science communications. She is already getting involved with various STEM organizations to encourage school students to pursue the sciences enthusiastically. “It was inspiring to hear how the journey of a scientist is to keep learning, even from their failures,” she says. “Even though COVID-19 impacted our research experience, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend the S3.”
Indeed says Džanko: “This series has allowed us deferred scholars to have an enthralling prelude of what we will be experiencing in 2021.”