MSU Texas graduate student receives prestigious internship

Cook to intern with National Institutes of Health

MSU Texas graduate student receives prestigious internship

Summer internships at the National Institutes of Health, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, provide an opportunity for students to spend a summer working side-by-side with some of the leading scientists in the world, in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research. The internships attract applicants from universities across the country.

Leslie Cook, a Midwestern State University computer science graduate student, was chosen for one of those internships with the NIH in biomedical research. Cook will be interning with the Biomedical Informatics section of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Intramural Research Program, to help analyze over 20 years of patient medical data.

As a non-traditional student who returned to college 12 years after graduating from high school and as a single mother, Cook hopes her accomplishments will inspire other women, mothers, and young people to never stop learning and growing, and pursuing their goals.

Cook said that Assistant Professor of Physics Preet Sharma played an integral role in her academic progress and achievements. “Our group is the Non-Linear Science Research Group, where we focus on theoretical and computational biophysical phenomenon. His mentorship has opened the door to so many opportunities that I know increased my chances of attaining this internship,” Cook said.

Sharma said that hundreds of students apply for the internships. “These programs are highly competitive. Leslie is talented and has worked hard for this opportunity,” he said. Individual scientists select their own summer interns and provide their funding. Internships generally cover a minimum of eight weeks.

Cook’s internship will be virtual rather than in-person, but it will still be a full-time, eight-week intensive research experience with opportunities for scholarly and professional development. Biomedical informatics is the science of information technology in the realm of health care and medicine. A biomedical data scientist evaluates complex data in order to develop solutions to real-world health care problems, achieve better health outcomes, and overall smarter health care. As a researcher for the NIH-BIS, Cook will be studying new methods for processing, managing, and visualizing biomedical data and the development of an intelligent (AI) clinical support system within the Intramural Research Program and National Institute on Drug Abuse clinical and research programs. Biomedical research includes everything from behavioral and social sciences, through biology and chemistry, to physics, mathematical modeling, computational biology and biostatistics. 

Earlier this year, Cook presented at the third annual Biophysics and Quantitative Biology Conference and Workshop at MSU Texas. That presentation was published in Reports and Advances of Physical Sciences. In San Francisco, she presented a poster at the 66th Biophysical Society Annual Meeting that was published in Biophysical Journal, and she currently has a paper in the final stages of the reviewing process submitted to Heliyon (part of the Cell Press journals). In June Cook will travel to Tahoe, California, to present a poster at the Molecular Biophysics of Membranes conference that will be published in the Biophysical Journal. “We are already starting another research paper that will expand on our previous one to incorporate more complexity and finite detail to our biophysical model,” Cook said.

Cook is also a student researcher with Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Fu-Cheng Liang, studying the protein alpha-synuclein, which causes neurodegenerative symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients. She is a member of the MSU Texas programming club and involved in research with the Computer Science Department.

“It truly means the world to me that my passion for research and academia with the support of my research adviser is being recognized,” Cook said. “Dr. Sharma’s influence has given me so much confidence to further myself in academia. I do not believe I would be where I am right now without him. Who knows, maybe I’ll even go for a Ph.D. to be a professor at MSU Texas one day too.”

More information about internships may be found at the NIH website.

More information on biomedical informatics may be found here.