In order to encourage more internships in the focused ultrasound community, this blog outlines ideas and strategies for creating a successful program that benefits students, mentors, and organizations alike – while cultivating the next generation of researchers and clinicians in the field of focused ultrasound. To date, the Foundation has more than 120 global interns and another 70+ local interns.
Matt Eames, PhD, the Foundation’s External Programs Manager, and Sam Clinard, a former Foundation intern and employee who is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Utah, answered a series of questions about the Foundation’s Internship Program.
How did the Foundation’s student internship program begin?
The global internship program started in 2012 and was the brainchild of former Foundation Board and current Council member Andrew von Eschenbach, MD. His motivation was to introduce focused ultrasound technology and its potential to treat disease to young people while they were in the process of making choices to shape their career path. The hope was that interns would become captivated by and interested in this medical technology and that they would subsequently work in and advance the field of focused ultrasound. While the program began with a focus on technical and engineering work, it has expanded to include other disciplines, such as communications, fundraising, and information technology. In 2018, the internship program was officially named in memory of Board of Directors member Charles Steger, PhD.
Where does the funding come from?
The Charles Steger Focused Ultrasound Internship Program is generously funded by the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.
What do interns gain from the experience?
Besides knowledge in the field, the Foundation provides young people with exposure to what it is like to be in a workplace and interact with coworkers. Each intern contributes in meaningful ways that help our staff. The importance of receiving an opportunity to meet professionals in the field cannot be underestimated. It is incredible to have exposure to individuals who are doing the type of work that you, as an intern, might want to do in the future. The technical and workplace experience is great, but the connections and networking opportunities are also incredibly valuable. Being around people who challenge you, the way you think, and the way that you solve problems provides an amazing benefit.
What do the mentors gain from the experience?
Researchers in academia need students to help them complete scientific experiments. The program also helps generate interest in the field of focused ultrasound so that students will want to learn more and perhaps someday come up with the next great idea. We should continually be creating a pipeline of new researchers to expand the field. The students’ interest, enthusiasm, questions, and fresh ideas stimulate thoughtful discussions and can contribute to the work that is being done in the field. Students should never underestimate the power of asking questions and challenging the status quo to create progress.
Does supervising an intern take away from the time you are able to devote to your own projects?
The key to the right amount of supervision is proper project design. Outlining specific steps for the intern to follow allows the student to work independently. A set daily or weekly check-in time allows time for questions and problem-solving.
How do you determine the right level of project for each intern?
We generally solve that problem in reverse by designing projects based on the Foundation’s needs and then conducting interviews to find suitable candidates. For technical positions, we like to form intern pairs to tackle portions of a larger project. In addition to working on these defined projects, interns will also be asked to (and thus learn how to) conduct literature searches using key words or MESH terms on PubMed or other data sources, or to update content for portions of the Foundation’s website.
For the technical internship program, we typically design projects with high-performing college students in mind. But the Foundation as a whole provides internship opportunities across a spectrum of skills, including communications, website development, database management, and more.
How many technical interns do you have each summer, and who supervises them?
The Foundation typically hires four technical interns each summer. Each intern is supervised by a different mentor from our technical team.
How do you determine and organize the technical internship projects?
The technical team meets in March or April to discuss potential projects. We discuss the projects that we are currently working on – either at the Foundation or with researchers at the University of Virginia – to determine which would benefit from an intern. We come up with anywhere from four to six projects and then think about how four interns could share the projects to help move them forward. Some are individual projects; other require a small team. Then we create job listings that include the skills needed for each project.
Where do you post the technical internship job listings? What about the nontechnical positions?
We post intern positions at the University of Virginia via the Handshake website because those positions are targeted toward UVA students. However, we frequently receive inquiries from out-of-state students whose families reside in central Virginia, and so we include those students on the distribution list of job descriptions.
How do you best match interns with projects?
It is important to choose the right intern for each project. The interests and skills of the intern should match what is needed for each project. Interns need to have the initiative to figure out problems on their own. To that end, we typically have interns complete a small task related to the summer project prior to making a hiring decision.
How do you onboard technical interns about something as complex as focused ultrasound technology?
We have developed a curriculum of onboarding materials for our technical interns. The students read and complete the tasks on their own. This includes watching webinars and reading a booklet with pertinent scholarly articles, publications, and review articles. During the summer of 2019, we started bringing in guest lecturers for the technical intern group, and we were able to expand that idea this summer through Zoom. The 2020 lecturers and their presentations were:
- Dennis Parker, PhD – Coordinate Transformations for Trans-Cranial MR-guided Focused Ultrasound
- Matt Eames, PhD – Focused Ultrasound Physics
- Jeff Aubry, PhD – Bioeffects of Focused Ultrasound and the Business Side of Creating Companies
- Fred Padilla, PhD – Ultrasound Imaging Physics
- Craig Meyer, PhD – MRI Imaging Physics
- John Snell, PhD – Image-Guidance, Stereotactic Surgery Techniques
- Dong-Guk Paeng, PhD – Laser-Based Ultrasound Techniques
- Dave Moore, MS, and Fred Padilla, PhD – Hydrophones and Quality Assurance for Focused Ultrasound
It is likely that we will expand this successful approach in the future by adding additional subjects. Furthermore, each lecture was recorded, so we can make them available in the future and make them available to individuals in the Foundation’s global internship program.
Was there a global internship program this summer?
Yes, we had eight global interns. We typically support up to 20, but demand this year was reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do you advertise the global internships?
We solicit applications from the more than 100 focused ultrasound researchers on an email list from our collaborative network. We also intend to expand the invitation to all biomedical engineering departments worldwide, so that more students receive information about the program.
Does the Foundation provide resources to principal investigators to help them develop intern projects?
Right now, each principal investigator designs his or her own internship project and then can submit a funding proposal to the Foundation. In order to be successful, they must demonstrate that the project is related to focused ultrasound and will advance the field.
What is the best type of project for a high school student?
High school students can also make meaningful contributions. For example, many teens know how to write computer code, are excellent programmers, and have attended advanced science summer camps. Many have developed writing or engineering skills, especially if they have taken advanced classes, written about research projects, or participated in robotics competitions with electronic components. Internships provide great opportunities for students who identify as “major geeks!” Each project depends on the type of person and their background.
What is the best type of project for an undergraduate student?
Because they are usually available for only a few weeks between school years, we try to assign them projects that can be completed in 8 to 12 weeks.
What are some examples of Foundation internship projects through the years?
- Employed 3-D printing techniques to develop a therapeutic ultrasound system for a sonodynamic therapy research project
- Developed new software
- Developed an elegant graphical user interface for closed loop control of pulsed focused ultrasound sonications
- Detected and localized cavitation activity to improve the safety of high-intensity focused ultrasound thermal necrosis
- Researched and documented the effects of anesthesia when using focused ultrasound to treat glioblastoma
- Ran statistical analyses to determine the effect of focused ultrasound as a strategy for myeloid cell modulation and repolarization
- Conducted a quantitative analysis of in-vivo microbubble distribution in the human brain
- Designed and tested an acoustic intensity measurement system
- Designed and tested an automatic acoustic field intensity mapping robot
- Analyzed immune cell counts after focused ultrasound treatments in mice
- Implemented a Munki Managed Software Center
- Built a world clock for the foundation
- Researched and summarized focused ultrasound thermal ablation target zones in the brain
- Synchronized Salesforce software with Editorial Manager software
- Updated Salesforce software records for focused ultrasound manufacturers
- Developed a variety of spreadsheets, including a list of investor contacts, investing histories, and a compilation of the largest mergers and acquisitions for medical device manufacturers
- Initiated a survey of manufacturer-specific information in order to better understand the growth of the market for focused ultrasound
- Designed and tested a direct, 3-D printed acoustic lens that could be customized for an individual patient’s skull
- Improved the Foundation website and updated databases
- Provided graphic design content for the Foundation, including a pictogram and branding content for the Symposium
- Created a motion design video about the Foundation’s impact
- Captured video for the Foundation’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
- Used MATLAB, a type of modelling and data acquisition software, to obtain readings from laboratory instruments and connected the instruments through MATLAB to make focused ultrasound experiments repeatable and more controlled
- Developed surveys to help the Foundation gather information on its global and summer internship programs
- Performed longitudinal analysis (a statistical method) to analyze tumor growth in mice over the seven days after focused ultrasound treatment to identify the decreasing pattern of tumor volume and the probability of deceasing pattern occurring
- Performed time series methods (ARIMA) models to understand the pattern of microbubbles, such as the peak time, how much time before the effect will be cleared, etc., to classify the type of brain tumor using ARIMA methods and then used long short-term memory methods to improve the models
- Made the Kranion software application compatible with Mac operating systems
- Tested 3-D printed transducer lenses to determine the material’s ability to alter the speed of sound and focused ultrasound waves
- Created a focused ultrasound systems catalog and compiled expected parameter ranges for a patient registry that will go in the National Cancer Institute Data Dictionary to accelerate the process of FDA approval in focused ultrasound research
Matt Eames, PhD, is the Director of Extramural Research at the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.
Sam Clinard is a former Foundation intern and employee who is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Utah.