Howard Hughes Scholar tells about his experience
Derek Dombroski, MS-IV, hasn't been around the Health Science Center much the past year, but his friends can certainly understand why. He has been "cloistered" with 41 other student scholars at the National Institutes of Health.
Dombroski is the fifth Health Science Center medical student in the last four years to be accepted for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-NIH Research Scholars Cloister Program. During the past few years, no university has sent more students to the prestigious program than the UTHSC.
Dombroski was one of the featured speakers at the first Medical Student Research Day held Nov. 28. "The Cloister Program is an incredible opportunity for a medical student to gain a foothold in research," he said. "Right now there is a shortage of physician-scientists involved in the research world."
The Cloister is the equivalent of a dormitory at the sprawling NIH campus in Rockville, Md., about half an hour from downtown Washington, D.C. "It's a throwback to college, but at a more mature level," Dombroski said. He was afforded the chance to visit principal investigators in their offices and fire questions at mentors ranging from young investigators to Nobel Laureates. At Monday evening science dinners, the scholars participated in conversations akin to "fireside chats" with great scientists.
Thursday evenings, the scholars gathered for informal dinners at which two or three scholars gave presentations and heard feedback from their peers. Other events include career panel discussions and trips to the nearby HHMI headquarters.
Dombroski outlined the benefits of an HHMI-NIH cloister experience. The housing is subsidized and interest on school loans does not accrue during the program. Scholars are equipped with computers connected to the NIH backbone. The Hughes Institute supports travel to scientific meetings. Scholars enjoy outings to places of interest, including the pristine Shenandoah Valley. Scholars may apply to stay a second year with NIH funding.
The word cloister says it all. "The idea is not to be distracted from research," Dombroski said.