Summer internship at NCBS – a Central School for Tibetans experience

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Tenzin Dawa, Sonam Dolma and Tenzin Lhadon from the Central School for Tibetans at Mundgod (Karnataka) have recently completed a month long summer internship at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS).This is the second year that NCBS has played host to Tibetan students residing in India in an effort to promote current methods in science education among the 12th class students at the school.

This program was initiated by Ronald Vale along with NCBS Director Satyajit Mayor and L. S. Shashidhara (Professor and Coordinator of Biology at IISER Pune). The primary objective of the project is to enhance children’s interest in science and to expose them to environments outside school that are involved in mainstream research in India. The internship at NCBS attempts to open doors to activity-based learning of Science and demonstrate new developments globally; which is the essence of the program.

“In our own small way we at NCBS would like to open up the world of science to our young colleagues who have travelled so far both metaphorically and literally to get here. We hope this engagement with our research institute will inspire Tenzin Dawa, Sonam Dolma and Tenzin Lhadon to keep an open and inquisitive mind and look at doing science as a way of life. Of course the impression they have left us, also makes them always welcome here.” says Satyajit Mayor, Director of NCBS.

The students this year interned with Vatsala Thirumalai, Axel Brockmann and Aswin Seshasayee respectively.
Tenzin Dawa interned at Vatsala Thirumalai’s lab that studies neural control of movement during development and in adulthood. According to Vatsala Thirumalai, Tenzin Dawa’s work involved observing fish behaviour and thereby perceiving what behavioural assays could tell us about the physiology of the organism. As the lab work involved hands-on training, Dawa was introduced to many techniques including microinjection of DNA into fish embryos. Vatsala concludes, “He has a spark in him, and he is curious and smart. I hope this stint has ignited a spark in him for scientific quest and that he will keep alive in him in the future.”

Axel Brockmann whose lab studies honeybees and the mechanism of behaviour, observes a contrast in the approach between the two batches. Compared to the last batch where he dealt with more questions from students, the current batch was more focused on learning techniques (e.g. dissecting frozen brains, isolating RNA, and doing a qPCR). As research in his lab ranges from behavioural experiments in the outside environment to molecular analysis in the lab, he noticed that this style allowed Sonam Dolma to wander around in the lab and interact with different lab members.  Sonam recommends this form of interaction to future batch mates, as it made it acceptable for her to ask more questions without inhibitions and in turn gain more from the internship, a trait that a school education system does not encourage.

For the students this has been an experience they reckon - worthwhile to remember for a lifetime. They had prepared themselves for a month of intense lab-work and were pleasantly surprised to find a research institute that was beyond their expectations. They give credit to the success of their internship to the organisation of the internship, which was seamless and their interactions with lab members and PIs who were very encouraging. 

How would they define this experience back at school?
Says Soman, “Well-equipped labs, greenery, the silence inside the library and above all the nature of living over there is beyond one's appreciation.”

More on the first batch, summer 2013 -

Central Tibetan Schools administration is an autonomous organization under Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India established in 1961 with the objective to establish, manage and assist schools in India for the education of Tibetan Children living in India while preserving and promoting their culture and heritage.

Ronald Vale PhD is a professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco.


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