Engaging young people in science

Illustration of students participating in the Quinn Family Internship program, moving towards the main lab, where they are welcomed by an LTRI researcher.

The Quinn Family Summer Internship Program exposes students to a world of scientific innovation beyond textbooks.

As a high school student, Ava Duckworth-Pilkington was passionate about science. And, as a young woman of mixed race, she wants to be part of the movement to create more diverse spaces in scientific environments. Last summer, that passion and drive led her to the Quinn Family Summer Internship Program at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (LTRI).

The summer internships expose students like Ava to the world of research and innovation, encouraging them to see the possibilities of a career in science. Working alongside the LTRI’s internationally esteemed, award-winning scientists, the interns further their knowledge of human biology and medicine through hands-on experience. The highly competitive nature of the program distinguishes LTRI interns in their applications to university and post-graduate studies.

The eight-week program is open to Grade 11 and 12 students who have completed Grade 11 biology and chemistry. Students are encouraged to retain science course options throughout their academic careers and ultimately consider science as a career.

“The program is focused on giving an early opportunity for high school students who have a passion for the medical and natural sciences to gain exposure into research and real-world applications,” says Francisca Quinn of the Quinn Family Future Foundation.

It was important to Francisca that students from diverse communities be exposed to a field that would typically be difficult to access at a young age. “We want to invest in the growth and education of our youth,” she says, “and empower them to pursue fields of study that advance their aspirations and can help our communities at large.”

Describing her summer internship as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Ava says it was exciting to see the different types of new technology and research being developed right here in Toronto. “It was incredible to take part in hopefully helping to discover some new things with the research that I worked on,” she says. “It was just a wonderful experience.”

One year later, Ava couldn’t recommend this program enough. “I had such an incredible experience! I still remember all the wonderful, intelligent and patient graduate students who I had the privilege of working with, and who inspired me to pursue science at university in September.”

Learning opportunities that shape the future of care

When Francisca Quinn and her husband Michael visited the interns at the LTRI last summer, they were both thoroughly impressed with how engaged and motivated the students were in their work.

“We were surprised at how advanced their work was within the laboratory and how much interaction there was with the lab staff, including senior researchers,” says Michael. “Each student had a unique experience within a lab team, working on advanced lab research projects. In their presentations, we could see how immersed, driven and engaged they were.”

Michael recognizes just how much experiences like the Summer Internship Program at the LTRI are important to the overall field of medical science: “Increasing access to these fields for everyone will help secure the best talent for the future,” he says.

Illustration by Jeannie Phan