Alex Snyder studied biotechnology in the Engineering Summer Academy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Why did you choose to participate in a summer program?
I wanted to participate in the Engineering Summer Academy at Penn because I wanted to immerse myself in a strenuous engineering summer program while experiencing the college setting. ESAP has helped me to narrow down my college and career choice and has given me valuable experience in the field that I want to pursue in the future: biomedical engineering.
How did you decide which program was right for you?
After carefully evaluating the six options (computer science, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, networking, and graphics) I decided on biotechnology because in addition to loving engineering, I love biology and chemistry. Additionally, I love helping people but want to do something a bit more than being a doctor (innovating rather than administering inventions and treatment), so I chose to take the biotechnology course. I was extremely happy with my choice and do not regret it at all.
What was a typical day in your summer program?
On a typical day, I would get up at 8 a.m. and get ready and then have breakfast at 8:20. Once I was done with breakfast, I walked from my dormitory to the engineering section of campus, about a 10-minute walk, to arrive in time for my 9 a.m. lecture class. During this class, I would learn about topics that would be covered in the lab section later on in the day among more broader-view topics. There were often guest speakers or journal talks, which is when we would read a scientific journal and discuss it the next day in class.
At around 11:30 a.m., I would have lunch with my biotech friends and be back in time for lab by 1:30 p.m.. The labs were usually preceded by a short lecture by my lab professor, just reviewing what we would do in lab that day and anything important that I’d need to know when I wrote my lab report that night.
Every Monday and Thursday, my three-person group would meet with our graduate-student mentor to work on a proposal/grant paper. My group was assigned to research the best and more effective material to use on an augmented repair of the meniscus. This group meeting would be over at 5:30 p.m., which is when my group and I would walk back to our dorm and work on the paper together in the common room for about two hours (sometimes more, sometimes less). After that, I would get dinner and bring it back to my dorm, where I worked on that day’s lab write-up or worked on the research paper. I like to finish things in one sitting, so some days I went to bed at 11 p.m. and some days I didn’t go to bed until 1 p.m! t was exhausting, but luckily I got to sleep in on weekends since we didn’t have any classes then.
What was the most memorable moment of your summer?
I think presenting my proposal with my group on the last day was definitely the most rewarding moment of my summer, because all of the work that I did had finally paid off. I was knowledgeable about the subject and had revised, debated and practiced for hours with my group.
What advice do you have for teens looking at summer programs or camps?
One piece of advice would be to not take a class if you haven’t completed all or most of the prerequisites. The prerequisites for this course were high school biology and high school chemistry, and AP Bio was recommended. I had only taken biology at the time, and what I was learning at ESAP was college-level biochemistry.
This brings me to my second point: Don’t take a course like this if you want it to be easy or to impress colleges. You’ll easily lose hope and perform poorly. Since I had only a basic understanding of the material being taught. I got discouraged a few times and at times felt hopeless, especially during midterms and finals. Little did I know that this course was graded on a curve. Thus, even though I earned a 69 percent on the midterm and a 64 percent on the final exam, I still pulled by with an A-. And I think that’s something to be proud of.