Erin Paglione interned in a developmental biology lab at Hanyang University in fall 2019.

In the fall 2018 semester, 17 students in the class of 2021 interned in labs at Hanyang University in Seoul. This experience was valuable to many students taking Natural Science courses as Minerva does not have its own labs. The students committed about 10 hours a week to their projects and had the option of writing a paper to get course credit.

This fall will be the third year of Minerva’s partnership with Hanyang’s labs, with around 12 students in the class of 2022 interning this semester.

“The internship should provide hands-on experiences and an outside recommendation source, which should improve their ability to compete for additional summer research experiences and eventually graduate school or jobs.”

Vicki Chandler

Vicki Chandler, Minerva’s Chief Academic Officer, said, “Minerva is fortunate that the Dean of Natural Sciences [at Hanyang University] is enthusiastic about accepting Minerva students into their labs. Hopefully, that will continue for future class[es].” Chandler continued, “for students interested in pursuing scientific research careers, the internship should provide hands-on experiences and an outside recommendation source, which should improve their ability to compete for additional summer research experiences and eventually graduate school or jobs.” This is particularly important for Minerva students because lab experience is not part of the standard Minerva curriculum.

The Quest asked students who participated in the program in fall 2018 about what they learned from their experiences.

Technical Skills and Confidence

Michael Chen and Antonia Kaestner worked in an environmental engineering lab with a Ph.D. student. They researched nanoparticles called magnetic dendrimers for cancer treatment. Chen and Kaestner both applied for a lab internship hoping to gain technical skills and experience. Kaestner gained confidence working with large and complicated machines. Chen also explained, “The chemical [we were] working with is actually pretty dangerous.” Kaestner added, “It scared me a little bit, [but] it made me feel very important.”

The professor and Ph.D. student designed this project with Chen and Kaestner’s interests in mind. Most researchers in the lab worked with the magnetic dendrimer to develop ways to take heavy metals out of polluted waters, but Chen and Kaestner were more interested in medical uses, so they used the same principles to set up an experiment related to cancer treatment. Chen’s main takeaway from the experience was “a lot of applications [of technology] is cross-disciplinary. They’re taking something environmentally-focused into a medical field.”

Those working in labs often find themselves waiting for parts of experiments to finish and repeating procedures. Kaestner told me, “We synthesized [the nanoparticles] ourselves and it takes forever.” They not only got comfortable with the equipment of the lab but also experienced the daily routine of research.

They not only got comfortable with the equipment of the lab but also experienced the daily routine of research.

Chen and Kaestner gained independence as they went through the semester. “[In] the beginning, we were guided pretty specifically by our Ph.D. student,” Kaestner said. “Toward the end we were doing more things by ourselves.”

They accomplished a lot in their semester-long internship, but, as their project went unfinished given time constraints, they are curious to see what the outcome of the research would be if completed.

Taking Initiative

Antony Halim interned at a membrane lab in the chemical engineering department. Halim stressed that taking initiative made his experience a positive one. He said the Ph.D. student he worked with “expected us to have a true experience” by directing the project based on his interests. He took charge of his project and before leaving Seoul reached the goal of completing a model of a membrane made from several different polymers. He remains in touch with members of the lab and hopes to work more and publish something about the project.

Halim plans on attending grad school and will need research experience to do that. He did physics research before coming to Minerva and aspires to do more computational physics research in the future. 

Commitment and Discipline

Manh Pham Nguyen worked in a lab in the urban planning department researching the question, “How will automatic vehicles change public transportation?” Unlike the other students, he could work from home for part of the time. Working alongside a Ph.D. student at Hanyang, he coded a traffic model. Nguyen told me the professor accepted him and another Minerva student “not because we have the technical skills, but because we don’t have them.” Nguyen further developed his computer programming skills and the lab gained new ideas.

 Like Halim, Nguyen plans on attending grad school, making this opportunity similarly valuable.

The main skill Nguyen cultivated was discipline. He stressed that all the lab interns needed to commit to the labs. Although he wasn’t going to Hanyang University every week, he, like the other students, spent many hours working on the research project. Chen and Kaestner also talked about this discipline, saying their record at Hanyang was 13.5 hours.

Asking Questions

One M’21 student “Loved it so much I had to come back!” Vy Tran worked in a particle physics lab in fall 2018 and returned to Seoul this fall. She currently works in a robotics lab with two students in the class of 2022.

Communication is critical in science research and all fields. Tran says her biggest challenge is the language barrier, but she overcomes this by asking questions, using visual communications, and prototyping. Her most valuable lesson was learning “to ask questions, because people will not eat you if you ask questions.”

Reflecting on her experience last year and looking forward to this semester, Tran said, “I love Hanyang. I think everyone in [the class of 2021] knows I love Hanyang a lot. They have a really nice intellectual space to cultivate creativity and collaboration.”

“I loved it so much I had to come back!”

Vy Tran (M’21)

Final Thoughts

Tran is also excited to be back in Seoul with friends she made in her lab last fall. She said “I was really lucky to work with wonderful people” last year and is excited to make new friends this semester.

Everyone I spoke with said the people they met were a crucial part of their experience. Nguyen and Halim both enjoyed the hospitality of the researchers in the lab.

When I asked the students if they had any tips for other Minerva students thinking about in-semester research, Kaestner and Tran both said they recommend doing it while taking 3 classes. She felt that the balance of relatively lower academic workload was good with the additional responsibility of the lab. Kaestner’s tip to the class of 2022 for their semester in Seoul: “Eat the honey chicken rice” at Hanyang Plaza. I think all of the Hanyang lab interns would agree.