Summer internships give Turner insight into grad school research

Release Date: 4/14/2011

Many college students do summer internships. Whatever their field of study, internships are a way to gain knowledge, improve one's resume, and explore particular areas of interest.

Ozarks senior Dakota Turner.

Ozarks senior Dakota Turner plans to go on to graduate school next fall.

Dakota Turner, a senior biology major from Paris, Ark., had a busy time last summer, taking part in not one but two internships.

“Originally I was going to be a doctor,” Dakota said. “That happens a lot with science majors. We start out wanting to be doctors or veterinarians, and then we start taking courses and decide that’s not what we want to do. I got really big into research starting my sophomore year and have decided to go on to grad school and get my Ph.D. in research.”

Dakota’s first internship was at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. “I was studying the E. Coli bacteria,” he said.  “When these bacteria begin to starve, they randomly release a toxin which kills half of their cell, and they live off the nutrients released.  We’ve tested this toxin on any number of other bacteria, and it killed them too. Which means that if you were to get a lot of bacillus in your system, it would start to cannibalize your gut. It would make you very sick.”

By studying benign forms of E. coli in the lab, scientists hope to be able to predict the behaviors of the more harmful types.

Turner’s second summer internship was at the University of Iowa.

“During this internship, I was working with Bacillus subtilis,” he said. The research attempted to determine how easily these bacteria can be killed with antibiotics.  Researchers have known for some time that bacteria can develop a resistance to antibiotics.  Dakota pointed out that this is why people taking antibiotics are always urged to take the whole regimen -- failure to do so could allow the bacteria to mutate into hardier and less easily killable forms.

For Dakota, working in the research labs was an interesting experience. “Here at Ozarks we only have undergraduates and professors,” he said,  “but for example in Nebraska there were 15 people working in that lab – three of them were techs, five were grad students, two undergrads, and the professor, all working together with me and one other summer intern. Plus other people who were collaborating, coming in and out all the time.

“In Iowa the lab was a lot smaller, just one undergrad, one grad student, the tech, the professor, and me.

“In either case it’s interesting because we come here, and we’re kind of top dog I guess in the lab, but you go there and you’re the lowest person on the totem pole. You learn how to cooperate quickly. I enjoyed both internships, had a lot of fun, and learned a lot of techniques I'll be able to apply to future jobs. It was a really valuable summer.”

Dakota credits U of O with helping him prepare for the internships. “It’s nice to go to a school where you can sit down with your professors and just talk to them,” he said. “And if you do need a letter of reference, it’s going to be better and more detailed than ‘Yeah, this student went to my class, etc.’ They know what you’ve really done.”

Dakota graduates this spring and plans to start grad school in the fall.