Eight Peers, One Family

Oct 27, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Swet Patel

Swet Patel is a sophomore at the College of New Jersey, majoring in psychology. He is a graduate of Project L/EARN, a 10-week summer internship that provides training, experience and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University.  

On May 27, 2014, I finally ended my teens and entered my 20s. But I will forever remember this date as more than just my birthday. This was the first day of Project L/EARN.

Like my peers entering the program, I expected to gain research exposure that would be a great résumé booster. Little did I know I would gain so much more than just research experience. Although the 10-week program was intensive, and at some points it made me question why I was doing it, I never imagined I would be able to achieve so much in such a short period of time. I realized after seeing the fruits of my labor—the poster, the oral presentation, and the paper—that this program was beyond worth it.

Project L/EARN boosted my confidence. I actually feel like a researcher. And it was truly remarkable that I was able to meet such diverse individuals from a wide range of fields during the guest lecture series. I learned a great deal from these esteemed professionals regarding the different aspects of health care. The networking the program provided gave me lifelong relationships that I will forever cherish.

I had the opportunity to work and collaborate with eight brilliant minds that I am proud to call my cohort. When I first saw them, I thought they would be eight peers who I would see on a day-to-day basis; reflecting on it now, I realize we were actually one cohort, one family. It was an amazing experience because we each were able to accommodate each other’s weaknesses.

I liked how involved the faculty and directors were with the interns. Some nights, I would be up really late finishing a lab or working on a component of my research paper. I knew I had my cohort to help me, but I also had teaching assistants who were willing to sacrifice their nights to make sure I was on the right track. I admired how the directors met with us to make sure we were not being swamped with work and tried to provide us with direction for our future endeavors. I never had this sort of guidance before, and it was comforting to know I had people who genuinely cared about my future.

Within these two months, I have grown up and learned so much. Whether it’s because of the enriching conference experience, the guest lecture series, or interacting with faculty from the institute, I am not the same person I was when I entered the program. And although we have left Project L/EARN, Project L/EARN has not left us. I know I will incorporate everything I learned in my academic endeavors and my future. I am eager to continue working on my research from this past summer with my mentor during the academic year. She played a significant role in my summer experience by providing me with constant support and feedback, which empowered me.

I cannot wait to see what Project L/EARN has in store for next year’s cohort. I look forward to meeting them and seeing how they transition through the program. No matter how far my career may launch, I will never forget the platform that pushed me to succeed. Project L/EARN will forever be an essential foundation that not only provided me with research skills, but more importantly, provided me with a family and a strong support system.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.