By: Annie Cross, MRA Intern
After a whirlwind summer at the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), I looked back at some of the more memorable experiences. While some gave me a better perspective on the medical field and some taught me about how the MRA organization runs, all of them opened my mind to the importance of medical research and awareness. Take a look at the behind-the-scenes perspective from an MRA intern:
1. An exciting start:
My first week at MRA was during American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual conference where cancer researchers and organizations come together to share medical advances over the past year. Throughout the week my colleagues talked about the numerous presentations and corresponding conversations dedicated to melanoma at the conference, and it quickly became clear to me that melanoma research was accelerating fast and with fervor. Over 40 MRA-sponsored researchers presented their work at the conference, which illustrated MRA’s central role in the field. Learning about all these advancements was the perfect way to kick off the internship, since it made me realize the impact melanoma research could have on cancer research in general. And since there were numerous presentations and educational materials to go through after the conference, I was immediately exposed to high-profile medical research that demonstrated the broad importance of melanoma and MRA.
2. A survivor’s story:
Before coming to MRA, I knew that many people die from late-stage melanoma, and also that clinical trials can save people’s lives. Both these facts became real a month into the internship when I read a story about a melanoma patient on the verge of death who was essentially saved by an MRA-sponsored clinical trial.
My task was to turn the patient’s video interview into a one-page summary, but I soon realized it was hard to pick out relevant information: Everything I was given seemed so important—not only in the patient’s story, but to the progress of melanoma research. MRA’s research funds allowed this patient to survive, and the clinical trial data, focused on new immunotherapy treatments, is helping medical researchers across the world find successful treatments to cure advanced-stage melanoma.
I realized that MRA’s work is truly intangible, priceless.
3. Policy follows suit:
From an early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of sun safety and using sunscreen. Yet, I often wondered how much the general public heard advice like that. During this internship, however, inspiring news was released that Texas and Nevada had banned tanning beds for minors. This news showed promise for melanoma prevention and awareness and gave me greater confidence that public policy is on board with skin cancer prevention.
4. Research is more than a white lab coat:
An integral part of what the Science Team does at MRA is based on individual investigators’ research. Every summer, the funded researchers send progress reports on the status of their projects. I was able to read many of these reports, and while the medical jargon required me to look a lot of terms up, I was exposed to the grunt work behind headlines on new medical advances. Researchers across the country spend countless hours trying to solve medical problems, and it amazed me how much progress a lot of them make in a year’s time. Reading through the tough science was not easy, but learning about the medical advances was inspiring.
I thought people were supposed to stay off social media in the workplace, and I had no intention of using Twitter at work! But, when I provided coverage of MRA’s social media accounts during a staff member’s vacation, I realized how wrong I was. Social media is an important part of business today, and is an avenue MRA uses to reach the medical field, including hospitals, doctors, and patients. Seeing how sponsors, partners, and supporters of MRA interacted on Twitter and Facebook was like stepping outside of the office. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share and interact with melanoma news and stories on social media outlets, and the experience gave me another perspective on how MRA is run.
6. The planning behind it all:
MRA was my first exposure to the medical non-profit world, and, prior to coming here, I did not realize the amount of planning and brain-power required to run such an organization. But, I was fortunate to sit in on a scientific planning meeting where the Science Team planned the types of awards they anticipated funding next year and mapped the progress and outlook of MRA-funded research. It was fascinating hearing the points and counterpoints to different perspectives. This four-hour meeting was where I learned the most about how a non-profit funds research and assembles a scientific strategy.
7. Meetings of the mind:
Throughout the course of the summer, I attended a variety of different seminars in person and online. They all taught me something different about science, policy, and research, but the biggest take-away from these seminars was seeing first-hand the dedication of people involved in medical research, patient advocacy, and philanthropic foundations. It was inspiring listening to doctors describe the importance of their research from the perspective of their patients, and it was eye-opening to meet people from different organizations dedicated to solve devastating diseases.
8. Hailing a cab in DC:
I had to include this! No, sticking my arm out across the street did not directly teach me about the inner workings of MRA or the importance of medical research. But, after my first day at work it did seem to give me a perspective on the real world. I grew up outside D.C., but have never experienced this quintessential bucket list item, and successfully hailing a cab put a stamp on my first full work day in the city. It also allowed me to introspect about the exciting work I was involved in with MRA, and I realized the benefits of working in a city like D.C.
It is certainly a unique experience driving by Capitol Hill and thinking about how the polices created there impact critical issues like cancer research.
About the Author:
I’m Annie Cross, a rising sophomore Chemistry major at UNC Chapel Hill. My interest in medicine, and corresponding family history of skin cancer, prompted my interest in MRA this summer. Before this summer, I had seen the clinical side of medicine with several doctors and nurses in the family, but had not been exposed to the other, more administrative side of the field. But after a summer at MRA, I am fascinated both by the public health field and biology in general. I look forward to applying some of the cancer research I have learned to more biology-focused courses in the future, and am excited for a possible career in the medical or public health fields.