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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / July 2015 / Job Lore: Brianna Sleezer

Job Lore: Brianna Sleezer

Brianna Sleezer, a neuroscience PhD graduate student in the Hayden Lab, is URBEST’s (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) first intern that has been matched with a host: The Children’s Environmental Health Network. Brie made things happen by connecting with Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, the Executive Director for CEHN, at a URBEST Career Story. Before Brie left for her three-month internship at CEHN, she agreed to answer some questions for URBEST Job Lore, a new blog category that will help guide URBEST trainees to find their own internships, skill-building activities and future jobs.

Do you know what your role will be and any projects you will lead at CEHN?

CEHN internships offer a wide variety of tasks and projects to work on. There are always some administrative tasks, but the organization tries to provide more stimulating and challenging projects as well, depending on the intern's experience level. One thing that I particularly like about CEHN – and a primary reason I chose to intern with them – is that they tailor their internships to match each intern’s current skillset and future goals. After I accepted the internship with CEHN, we discussed several projects that would allow me to utilize some of my own skills (writing, literature review, etc.) and also gain experience in public health policy. Some of the projects we discussed include: drafting docket comments on proposed regulations, researching potential funders, serving as editor for CEHN’s winter newsletter, drafting an article for the winter newsletter, conducting phone calls for an outreach project to low income communities, and drafting articles for CEHN’s Article of the Month series, which highlights new, peer-reviewed publications in the field each month.

Do you think grant writing will be part of your day to day?

CEHN has a wide variety of tasks and projects to work on, so I imagine that my day-to-day responsibilities will vary significantly throughout the three to four months that I am there. However, CEHN did mention that they often have interns work on researching potential funders, so I imagine that the project could potentially involve grant writing.

Will you be working with other interns?

CEHN typically hires two to three interns each academic period, so I will likely be working with one or two other interns.

Besides CEHN how will you take advantage of the Washington DC location?

One of the many great aspects of CEHN is their location. CEHN is located on Capitol Hill, and they encourage their interns to attend Hill briefings, meetings, and other professional activities. I plan to take full advantage of this during my internship, and I think it will be an excellent opportunity to gain valuable experience in a professional environment.

How have your labmates and your PI helped you to achieve this internship opportunity? I’m guessing they have been supportive. Have they given you any other useful advice you would like to share?

I am incredibly lucky to have had a large group of people supporting me and providing advice and guidance throughout the internship process. I am particularly thankful for the support from my advisor. Ben has provided constant encouragement and resources (professional contacts, etc.) throughout every step of this process, and I am very grateful for all of his help and guidance.

I’ve also received a lot of support and advice from my committee and other URBEST-associated faculty members since I began searching for internships. One thing that I was slightly surprised by throughout this process was how easy it was to find and meet with people who could answer my questions or offer advice. Many times when I would meet with someone, I would have a question that person couldn’t answer and they would put me in contact with someone else who could better advise me in that area.  I ended up meeting with a number of different people from different departments, and received a lot of excellent advice and guidance.

A fair number of graduate students and postdocs don’t think they have time for an internship while trying to conduct research. What do you think are the pros and cons of what you are doing? Any advice for people thinking about taking on an internship?

I definitely understand why many people don’t feel like they have enough time for an internship. The whole process – even before actually doing the internship – is very time consuming. Throughout the two or three months that I was researching and applying to internships, I spent a large portion of my day answering internship-related e-mails, scheduling meetings with people, and preparing applications materials, and less time than usual on research. That being said, however, I think the pros of doing this internship definitely outweigh the cons. The professional experience and networking opportunities available through this internship will likely help make the transition to a non-academic career a lot easier, and I’ve learned about so many opportunities that I didn’t know were available to me prior to starting this process.

I think the two best pieces of advice I can give to people considering an internship are first, to talk to as many people as possible outside their own department or advisory network to explore what opportunities are available, and second, to talk face-to-face with people in whatever field they are interested in (the URBEST career talks are excellent for this!) and follow up with an e-mail after. In my experience, I think it helps a lot to meet with someone face-to-face before applying to an internship. I applied to 6 or 7 internships, many of which I had found through postings online, and didn’t hear back from a lot of them.  When I applied to CEHN, however, I contacted Ms. Witherspoon directly (after I met her through the URBEST Career Story Seminar series), and was offered the internship position shortly after that. It made the whole process a lot easier than it might have been otherwise.

For further information about URBEST, Brie or internship opportunities please contact Tracey Baas (




Tracey Baas | 7/22/2015

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