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Philanthropic support gives UAH COS undergraduate Sidney Martin opportunity to intern at Harvard Medical School

Sidney Martin says his prestigious summer internship experiences with Harvard Medical School, Broad Summer Research Program, MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital could not have been possible without the College of Science (COS) and donor support of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System.

For Martin, these educational opportunities paved the way for career exploration and ultimately led to his desire to pursue an MD-Ph.D.

His passion for science was ignited in high school by St. Jude Hospital’s Science Scholars of Tomorrow Symposium where he toured the facility and met researchers. When he came home, he couldn’t stop talking about the amazing research and discoveries they were making. This experience motivated Martin to major in biology with a chemistry minor and a focus in biochemistry and the aim of pursuing a Ph.D. so he could conduct research and improve people’s lives.

To achieve his goal, Martin spends his summers conducting research as an intern. In 2019, he participated in the Honors Capstone Research Summer Program working with Dr. Sharifa Love-Rutledge. In 2020, he virtually attended the Broad Summer Research Program (BSRP) with MIT and Harvard. “When I got into Broad I was so excited,” Martin says. “That was a good day. It was the first domino of many more to come.”

The most recent domino fell this summer when Martin attended his third research program, this time at Harvard Medical School’s Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP) where he lived in Boston, minutes away from Harvard. Martin knew he needed to be physically in the lab working alongside his mentors to get the most out of this opportunity. Without additional funding for travel and housing provided by the UAH College of Science Dean’s Excellence Fund, a summer in the lab was financially out of reach.

Dr. Rainer Steinwandt, Dean of the COS, recognizes the impact the Dean’s Excellence Fund can have on student outcomes and the value donor support has on making it possible. Dr. Steinwandt shares, “The College of Science has extraordinary students who are ready to pursue highly competitive research and training opportunities. Regrettably, for some of our best students, the cost of traveling to a program out-of-town is an insurmountable financial obstacle. Here, the support of our donors through the Dean’s Excellence Fund makes the difference between a theoretical possibility and a transforming experience for a student.”

“This summer was amazing,” Martin says. “There was a lot I expected to do, and then there were the things I didn’t expect to do.” Martin emphasizes his experience was exceptional because he attended the program in person. His summer program was located in the Longwood area, a central hub for several well-reputed research hospitals, and his own research was conducted in Harvard’s prestigious Kalaany Lab studying cancer-associated cachexia, or when cancer cells rob healthy cells of nutrients and patients with cancer suffer irreversible weight loss and health repercussions.

What Martin didn’t expect was a change in his career path. During his summer at Harvard, an opportunity to shadow two professionals at Boston Children’s Hospital caused him to re-think his future career plans. “I followed two pediatric endocrinologists with MD-Ph.D.s, and I was blown away. These doctors were very sociable and talked with the patients and their parents in personable ways. Although I love research, having some sort of personal connection to it will make it more fulfilling.”

As a result of this experience, Martin is now considering the pursuit of an MD-Ph.D. in the field of oncology, a degree that combines research with patient care. As Martin explains it, “the patients become the drive to do the research.”

To achieve this, Martin plans to apply to a post-baccalaureate program to prepare for the MCAT, shadow additional mentors and volunteer in his chosen field. Hopefully, Martin says, this time next year he’ll be in a post-baccalaureate program at the Broad Institute.

Martin is the type of person who seeks out opportunities and creates them for others through the research programs he attends and the on-campus organizations he’s chosen to join. He serves as an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) Student Ambassador, a volunteer position that allows him to promote a diverse and inclusive atmosphere on campus. As the Political Action Chair for the UAH National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Martin organizes diverse social and educational gatherings, such as debate watch parties and discussions about current healthcare topics. Martin also participates in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, an organization funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to increase both the quantity and quality of underrepresented students pursuing degrees in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

When asked what advice he’d offer incoming students, Martin’s first advice is to have an open mind, initiative and perseverance. “I had no idea what summer research programs were – or really what research was – until the end of my freshman year. I tried it and I loved it, and then I applied to other programs, and here I am now. Even when you think you might not make it, you should still try.” Martin also says don’t pressure yourself too much with any one prescribed path. “I’m a senior and having a career plan change right now.” He says a curious spirit can open new avenues to previously undiscovered passions and “that personal spark you feel when you know your contributions are going to impact and save the lives of others.”

Finally, Martin notes it’s important to ask for help and resources and to make the most of your opportunities. “Thanks to the College of Science, I was able to have an in-person experience in Boston. I made connections and got to know people better. I would have otherwise missed out on the experience of living and working in Boston at Harvard Medical School. I’m really grateful.”

(Courtesy of UAH)