Rahil V. is a high school student from Maryland. He was part of the 2020 STEM Enhancement in the Earth Sciences Mosquito Habitat Mapper summer research intern cohort.
This past summer I attended the SEES Virtual Mosquito Mappers Internship, changing my life. I suppose "life-changing" is often used arbitrarily to describe a great experience, but I can assure you, I do mean life-changing. I entered the summer wary of a virtual internship; after all, how useful could zoom calls and a virtual classroom be?
Within the first week, I was blown away by the competent mentors, resources, and peers online. I learned about topics I never considered to be of any interest, yet became the bulk of my thoughts during the summer. The internship inspired me to do things I never thought possible as a high school student. My NASA SEES Virtual Internship opened so many doors; I gained media exposure from local news outlets, submitted articles to numerous scientific journals, co-authored one scientific paper, and won the prestigious Community Innovation Award from the Society for Science through my submission to a local science fair.
Although these accomplishments seem great, the real question should be whether I truly believe my work was important. When I first started researching mosquito larvae and vector-borne disease outbreaks, I did not consider myself to be able to have an impact on people. After all, I was just a high school kid looking for stuff to keep myself busy. Looking back on it, helping people only became my main goal when I realized the extreme impacts high mosquito populations can have on a community. At that point, I determined to do something about it. My research potentially impacted 1,050,688 current Montgomery County residents, but the countless millions more will be affected by spiking mosquito populations in the future. By conducting critical research and pressuring local governments to listen, we can ensure a safer tomorrow, preventing hundreds of millions of mosquitoes from mature and limiting the risks of vector-borne disease outbreaks.
Screenshot summarizing research project conducted in Montgomery Co, MD.
Much of my motivation to conduct research came from within; however, I would have never been introduced to this alien world of STEM without the SEES's mentors' help. SEES has a special way of connecting to high school students; instead of having interns do boring/low-level tasks, they encourage students to learn in unique and hands-on methods, even online. Make no mistake, the extent to which you can reach this internship is not limited by resources, education, or money. Only you control whether you do the bare minimum or become an esteemed high schooler in the world of science.
This summer, I hope to continue my research in a lab internship and begin to understand the biology and chemistry of larval habitats and the life cycle of a mosquito. I want to turn what started as a quantitative study of mosquito larvae habitats into a broader perspective, studying the qualitative aspects that make mosquitoes and the waters that harbor their larvae so dangerous. As every high school student, I often get asked what I hope to pursue as a career and what the future holds. Ironically, I know less about my future than I did before I started the SEES internship. This is not to dissuade you from joining such a great program, instead as a testament to the incredibly diverse world of STEM. Right now, I am working towards being a biomedical engineer. Tomorrow, it might be a biomedical researcher. The next day it might be an environmental scientist. I know that the world of science is at the forefront of innovation, and I am here for all of it.