Eric Simental - MIT Summer Research Program

This summer I was given the opportunity to conduct research through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Summer Research Program (MSRP). I had actually learned about the program from Dr. Amy Keating, who was representing MIT’s Department of Biology at a conference I attended in November of 2015. At this conference I was introduced to a number of different programs, and I applied to several. MIT had never really been on my radar as somewhere I would want to attend graduate studies because it isn't usually perceived as somewhere that places a strong emphasis on biology. I finished applying on a Saturday in February and much to my surprise I was offered a position in the program the following Tuesday, with six days to decide. This, as I was later told, was done so that I would be forced to accept before any other programs had really started looking at applications. However, looking back on the summer, I know my decision to spend a summer at MIT was the wn about for years, as his work was something that had matched my own interests since high right choice. 
I was lucky enough to get into my first choice of lab, that of Dr. Peter Reddien at the Whitehead Institute. Dr. Reddien is one of the few scientists I had known about, and had known for years, as his work was something that had matched my interests since high school. The focus of the Reddien Lab is understanding planarian regeneration. Planarians are aquatic flatworms with the ability to regenerate from seemingly any injury. Cut the worms in half and each half will regenerate into a new worm. Cut them into thirds, three new worms. We can generate animals with multiple heads, no heads, two mouths, six eyes, or really anything one could think of. The fact that I was able to study these incredible creatures in the lab of a scientist I have followed for years was incredibly surreal.
My time in Cambridge was amazing. Between the 50-70 hour work weeks, beach excursions, meeting faculty at both Harvard and MIT, and constant laughs, I grew not just as a scientist but as a person as well. MIT is a place where scientists thrive. The overwhelming support made for an environment where I felt not only welcome but accepted. I was forced to think in new ways and encouraged to challenge the ideas of even my own PI and mentors, which has only made me more prepared and confident in entering graduate school. Being at MIT was a dream come true.