From UNI to Harvard and MIT

Some University of Northern Iowa students spend their summers on a beach or relaxing at home, some have jobs or internships, but only one has an internship at Harvard. UNI senior Jack Kosmicki spent the last two summers interning at the Harvard-MIT Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) Summer Institute.

UNI student
Kosmicki with his lab group from Harvard.

BIG is a program that exposes undergraduate students to biomedical and quantitative sciences working together, and provides them with specific skills in the field of genetics. As part of the program, students get to sit in on lectures presented by Harvard medical faculty and other famous researchers. The institute allows students to conduct hands-on research in an internationally recognized scientific community.

Working with Harvard and MIT faculty, Kosmicki used a machine to reduce the amount of time it takes to diagnose certain types of autism. This type of test is for children around the ages of two who are still learning to speak. Kosmicki's colleagues also worked with autism specialty genetics, treatment of autism and autism diagnosis.

"Through my research I found a reduction (in the time the test takes) of 72 percent" said Kosmicki. "Hopefully this can make the diagnostic process easier for children, parents and administrators." A paper Kosmicki wrote on this topic with fellow interns has recently been accepted for publication in "Translational Psychiatry," a neurological treatment e-magazine.

The internship wasn't all work, along with their research, Kosmicki and fellow students were able to visit Salem, Massachusetts, sail on the Charles River, visit Harvard's Peabody Museum, watch Fourth of July fireworks in Boston, which Kosmicki described as "phenomenal," and catch a Red Sox baseball game.

After he graduates this spring, Kosmicki would like to work in the medical field, but that's only one option. He has interviews with doctorate programs across the country weekly, and plans to either go into the medical field, conduct research or do a combination of research and teaching. This internship involving autism research, along with his research experience here on campus and his bioinformatics major, makes his resume stand out and opens up his career options.

Kosmicki credits his success and his career options to UNI professors. "All of my success is due to Dr. Barendzen, my personal research investigator, and Dr. Poleksic, my adviser," he said.

Kosmicki says underclassmen entering the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields need to understand the importance of undergraduate research to their career. "You have to have prior research experience to continue your education in this field," Kosmicki said. "If you want things in life you have to go after them. Nobody is going to knock on your door and say here's an internship."