When walking down one hall of Scripps Research, you may hear the unmistakable sound of laughter emanating from the office of Theresa Hill. The senior project manager of the Scripps Research Translational Institute’s education team is likely catching up with a student, trainee or clinical scholar from one of the many training programs she manages.

Theresa Hill

As part of a national consortium of institutions funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, the Scripps Research Translational Institute offers several education and training opportunities including career development for early-career clinician scientists and translational research training for doctoral students.

Another program that falls under Hill’s purview is the Student Research Internship Program, a 10-week summer activity that in 2022 attracted more than 600 applicants from across the United States. Hill, who has an MBA, a master’s in Adult Education and a master’s in Management and Leadership, shares her background, how the internship program has grown and what students can expect from the experience.

What brought you to Scripps Research?

My background is diverse and not a typical straight line for a career in education. Along with my graduate degree in Adult Education, I am a certified fitness trainer and lifestyle coach. For over 15 years, I have worked with an accredited national training school instructing various fitness and personal behavioral workshops.

My very first job after graduating high school was with my local community college where I subsequently received the first of my five degrees. Four years later I found myself working in Princeton University’s Department of Molecular Biology, but quickly came to the realization that science was not my field. Little did I know what life had in store and that I would find myself 20+ years later back in a scientific educational establishment.

I found my way to Scripps Research in San Diego because after more than 20 years in New York City, I was looking for a change. I’m passionate about education as I enjoy seeing others succeed in their personal lives and in the classroom. Education is a critical part of improving lives, and though I’m not a traditional educator, I love knowing I contributed in some small way to others’ educational and career success.

What is the Student Research Internship Program?

Our 10-week program offers aspiring scientists, from high school students to medical school trainees, an internship with faculty mentors who are conducting novel and exciting research in infectious diseases, human genomics, bioinformatics and digital medicine. The program provides opportunities to gain experience in translational and clinical research. Interns learn collaborative approaches to addressing today’s pressing health challenges, as well as how to implement outreach and community engagement activities to strengthen their research efforts. They participate in discussions with faculty, shadow physician-scientists at hospitals and take part in field trips to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Additionally, we build their presentation and research discussion skills through team journal club presentations, individual research pitches and end-of-program poster displays. Past interns have presented posters at scientific conferences, and several interns have subsequently published their work in peer-reviewed journals, making significant contributions to their field of research.

What do you enjoy the most about your work with students, trainees and clinical scholars at Scripps Research?

I love to see them find their way. For summer students, most start off shy and afraid to speak up, but grow over the summer as I gently nudge them to be more assertive. By the end of their time here, they have made new friends and are feeling confident in asking and answering questions—thereby poised to start conversations to help them as they find their career calling.

I regularly hear from students after they have completed the internship program that this experience gave them a different perspective and allowed them to really determine their educational and career paths. This holds true for the clinical scholars as well. Although they are early career researchers, they too are finding their way and navigating their next steps. This feedback makes me truly feel we have accomplished something to be proud of. As a mentor, it is hard to let mentees go, but for me it is a rewarding feeling. Seeing them mature provides a sense of pride knowing I have made their time here a little easier, that my words gave them encouragement to do something they may have been hesitant to do.

How has the program grown and what efforts are being made to recruit diverse talent?

Since joining the Scripps Research Translational Institute in 2017, my goal has been to make our internship program stand out not only among the other successful programs within our organization, but also amongst the other academic institutions and industries that surround us on the Torrey Pines Mesa.

We’ve made significant strides in the past five years. Our application numbers have increased from 8 in 2016 to 645 in 2022, making it a highly competitive national internship program.

We are also committed to diversifying our applicant pool and by extension the students we accept into the program. We work closely with Dawn Eastmond, director of Graduate Studies at the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences, who has successfully increased diversity in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) internship and graduate programs at Scripps Research. Together we aim to build further connections with institutions with large numbers of underrepresented students, such as Meharry Medical College and University of Puerto Rico, so we can continue to recruit diverse talent.

Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion commitment, developed together with Dawn, Laura Nicholson, director of Education at the Translational Institute and Tolúwalàṣẹ Ajayi, director of Clinical Research and Diversity Initiatives, outlines our mission and strategy for fostering an inclusive environment that embraces diversity and supports equity.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not corralling students?

Working out and playing tennis are my second loves, but my first love will always be singing. I studied classical theater at Julliard for years. I also enjoy going to a musical or a play and traveling the world.