SPF 2012: Summer Program Fundamentals
By Naomi Shulman
Here’s a little story about what happens when chance, ambition, and luck converge. During winter break 2010, Joe Sullivan, Class of ’12, was spending time with his family on Lake Burton, GA. “I’m a big lake boarder. I’m always in the water, splashing—and falling,” Joe laughs. “But soon I noticed my contact would rise up in my eye—it wouldn’t stay centered on the pupil.” Joe went to an ophthalmologist his dad knew in Atlanta. But it turned out that his dad’s friend wasn’t in the office that day, so Joe saw one of his colleagues instead. “He told me I had an allergic reaction to the lake water,” Joe says. “Some kind of amoeba caused little red bumps on the inner part of my eyelid, and they would grab the contact every time I blinked.”
- Ivory Hills was a senior researcher at a drug company before he came to Deerfield; now he oversees a new summer program for science and research.
A straightforward problem with an easy fix, so Joe and the eye doctor started chatting about other things, like what Joe was studying at school. Joe mentioned he was thinking about attending the competitive Disease Detective Camp at the Center for Disease Control. Which is how it came up that this doctor’s wife works in the Division of Local Readiness at the CDC. And then it was like dominoes falling, one after the next—connection, application, acceptance. A few weeks later, Joe had landed a plum internship, the kind that can help lay the foundation for a career: researching pediatric pandemics at the CDC with the associate director of science.
Joe’s internship, impressive as it was, is hardly unheard of. Students at Deerfield have long spent their summer months in meaningful ways. The circuitous path that led to Joe’s internship is pretty common, too, but that’s about to change. A new program, launching for the first time this year, seeks to help passionate young scientists find their own plum assignments, so that students’ fortunes won’t depend on who was in the office that day, or who happens to be married to whom.
Instead, they will depend on Dr. Ivory Hills, a former senior researcher at a drug company, who ditched it all for life in academia. With a doctorate from MIT and senior research experience at Merck, Hills came to Deerfield this past fall not only to teach but also to create and implement the new summer program for science and research. For Hills, who had long had the ambition to teach but had been wooed by Big Pharma, it has been like coming home. “You know, I was a little naïve—I thought pharmaceutical companies were interested in making drugs. They’re interested in making money,” he says with a rueful smile. “After my decision to leave Merck, I knew that I wanted to teach. I’m most interested in helping foster students’ ability to think critically, and I think that’s best realized in a high school setting, since the students are still in their formative years.” It might seem like a risky move, but Hills points out that moments of risk are when the most interesting things happen—whether you’re trying to break into research internships at 16 or making a career about-face at 34. “Look, there are no guarantees,” he says. “The only guarantee is you can’t win if you don’t play.” It’s age-old advice, and students are responding, opening themselves up to the risk of intense research work. As of this past February, about 30 ambitious kids had already eagerly signed on.