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After the first week of DukeEngage Washington, D.C., my overwhelming feeling is confidence that I am in the right place. I chose this program because I struggled to negotiate my love of science with my curiosity about public policy, and as graduation soon approaches, with my uncertainty regarding a career path. I hesitated applying as a rising senior, knowing that my internship placement would be left somewhat to chance, because I felt the urge to find the most impressive or worthwhile use of my summer—an all-too-familiar anxiety for Duke students.

Fortunately, it is clear from the last week that I have found exactly that in DukeEngage D.C.

I’m interning at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), within the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). My office’s work focuses on the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, specifically its neuroethics component. Despite it being a nightmarish, acronym-filled mouthful whenever anyone asks, I was thrilled to be connected with this placement.

Rapid progress in neuroscience today, especially as our capabilities veer into potentially controversial territory, necessitates ethical considerations and policies. As a neuroscience major this is probably my greatest interest, so to see that work being done here, live in action, is already more than I could have hoped for.

Experiencing the NIH atmosphere itself has been invaluable. The expansive campus conducts or funds almost all of the nation’s most significant biomedical research. This importance reaches me every time I’m allowed to sit in on a meeting, attend one of the many talks and events held each day, and simply in observing the people around me.

These situations also evaporated any nerves I had prior to the internship, as I began to realize how well equipped I was from my classes and research at Duke to contribute to my office’s work. It’s an incredibly cool, nerdy feeling to listen during conversations or receive a task and realize I understand (almost) exactly what’s going on. You mean all those nights in Perkins were actually worth something?

While I’m certainly still carving out my workplace niche, I’m learning so much about myself, our work, and the science policy arena simply by being present. Outside of work, our DukeEngage enrichment activities put our group discussions into context and reveal how real policy action happens.

These are exactly the big picture, science-as-public-service issues I’ve always been passionate about, but I feel like I’m just now discovering their reality. Previously, this marriage between all the seemingly distant topics in which I’m interested was more of an amusing thought experiment, rarely occurring to me as a viable future. But I now see that entire groups of people, careers, and industries devote themselves to these unique and important issues, and so could I.