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Monday, June 17, 9 A.M. It’s the first day of my internship through the DukeEngage, Washington DC program. I arrive at the National Institutes of Health, ready to meet my boss and start my new job. Part of me is filled with excitement: I have a unique opportunity to work for one of the biggest research agencies in the world, and one of the biggest proponents of a field I have been so interested in since my childhood. However, a bigger part of me was full of anxiety.

Since receiving my acceptance into this “science policy” program, I was worried about my fit on the policy side. My experiences with pre-med classes and neuroscience research had brought up some issues in the policy realm that intrigued me, but I still considered myself a science student. I originally applied to this program with excitement to have the opportunity to explore these interests; but, now I was worried I didn’t have the necessary experience with policy to make a valuable contribution to my partner organization.

Soon after, I met my supervisor. All was going well, as she and everyone she introduced me to were friendly and enthusiastic. However, she soon gave me my first assignment. My department works on the ethical engagement and policy regarding new neuroscience advances and technologies in their application to medicine. So, to get more acquainted with this work, my boss handed me 200 pages of reading outlining the proposed future direction of our department and institute. Thankfully, the scientific goals made sense to me and seemed to align well with my academic experiences, but the ethical goals seemed more foreign to me.

Reading through those documents, I felt worried about being out of place, as I really did not know how to engage with these issues and did not feel qualified to contribute to this mission.  However, as I continued reading, I noticed something: this roadmap had cited research that I had the opportunity to work with through a Bass Connections team at Duke. Citing some of my lab’s findings about brain privacy, the roadmap proposed creating standards for the ethical use of the increasing brain data being collected in health care.

With that sign, I started to think, maybe I am qualified – not to contribute right away, but, instead, maybe I was qualified to learn. While I did realize some of my skills and knowledge from Duke could translate to my work at the NIH, I still knew that there was a lot I didn’t know. But, this moment helped me accept that, and it gave me the confidence and excitement to ask questions and learn. Suddenly, my job did not seem as intimidating anymore, and instead started to offer me hope and promise. Two weeks into my internship, I’ve felt more confident asking questions, engaging with my work, and learning from my co-workers. With this mindset, I am extremely excited for the rest of the summer, and I really look forward to learning more and more.