Summer Internship Program FAQs

What kinds of research are conducted at the UH Cancer Center?

The UH Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that conducts research on the causes, prevention, and treatment of cancer across a broad array of disciplines. Interns participate in either population-based OR laboratory-based research projects as summarized in the table below.

  Cancer Biology Cancer Epidemiology Cancer Prevention in the Pacific
Areas of research: Molecular carcinogenesis and prevention methods and new therapeutic approaches to cancer treatment. Epidemiology, nutrition, biostatistics, bioinformatics Behavior change, quality of life in cancer survivors, and community-based interventions to promote cancer preventive lifestyles in our multiethnic population.
Prerequisites: College-level laboratory skills acquired from previous courses and/or research experience. Previous coursework in one or more of these areas: nutrition, public health, psychology, statistics, programming, or genetics. Previous coursework in one or more of these areas: nutrition, public health, psychology, statistics, programming, or genetics.
Preference is given to applicants with skills in these areas: Cancer research laboratory skills. Research design, health disparities, data collection, data analysis, or programming. Research design, health disparities, data collection, data analysis, or programming.

How are interns selected for the program?

Each summer, more than 100 students apply for approximately 20 internships. Eligible applicants are screened for their research interests, academic ability, relevant coursework and experience, and research skills. An important factor is the fit of the student’s interests with the research area of an available mentor. Preference is given to students who belong to groups under-represented in biomedical science or who are from a disadvantaged background. In addition, the program aims to select students who attend a diverse group of schools.

How are interns paired with mentors?

Every attempt is made to match interns with available mentors who have similar research interests. Half of the interns are paired with mentors in population-based research, and half are paired with mentors in laboratory-based research.

What if I’m not happy with the research area or mentor I’m assigned?

Not all applicants will be assigned their first choice research area and usually it is not possible to change the assignment. Applicants who are offered an internship are expected to arrange a telephone or email interview with the assigned mentor. In addition, the applicant may learn more about the research area by searching for the mentor’s publications on PubMed. Applicants who are not satisfied with the final assignment have the option to decline the internship.

What are the internship program requirements?

The internship program is a full-time cancer research experience that aims to enhance students’ skills in research practices, analytical thinking, presentations, and ethics, while it nurtures their interest in potential careers in cancer research. Participants are expected to fulfill the requirements in the table below.

Requirements Details
Employment by RCUH Complete all required forms due May 23, 2018. 
Obtain training certifications Responsible Conduct of Research, Human Research Protections, and Laboratory Safety.
Participate in the program full-time 40 hours/week during May 30th through August 10, 2018 (or modified dates for students who have conflicting academic schedules).
Complete time sheets every 2 weeks Time sheets signed by the mentor and submitted at the due dates.
Participate in program activities Orientation
Seminars and journal clubs
Cancer Center Tour
Complete research project goals Goals are according to the mentor's expectations
Write a research abstract Write an abstract of your research project that is 500 words or less including title, authors, background, methods, results, and conclusions.
Give poster presentations Final poster presentation of research project
Provide feedback to improve the internship program Answer online survey questions

Are internships paid, and if so, how much?

Participants receive hourly pay for their full-time participation in the internship program, based on RCUH student assistant pay rates. Students are not compensated for additional work hours or holidays, and the program does not provide housing, transportation, or travel expenses. The table below outlines the pay rates and cumulative hours required.

Intern Hourly Pay Rate Cumulative Hours
Undergraduate $11.65 300
High School $10.60 160

What is the 2018 program schedule?

The program begins May 30th, 2018 and continues through August 10, 2018. The program dates are modified to accommodate students who have conflicting academic schedules. The table below outlines the program schedule.

2018 Dates Deadlines and activities
March 1 Application Deadline
April/May Applicant notifications
Mentor placements
Selectee-mentor interviews
Acceptance form due
RCUH employment papers due
May/June Training certifications
May 30-August 10 Research projects and weekly activities (seminars, journal clubs, presentations)
July/August Research abstracts due
Final poster presentations
Evaluation survey

Will I be working on a project that I develop or will it be one that is assigned?

Most projects are a subset of a larger project that is designed and developed by the mentor and assigned to the intern.

Do all interns have the same research project?

Most interns work on different projects. Students who are matched with the same mentor may work on similar projects.

Is my project supposed to be completed by the end of the program?

Interns may work with their mentors to modify their project goals as necessary. Interns present the status their research findings, whether complete or incomplete, at the end of the summer. Interns may follow up with their mentors later to get periodic updates regarding their research project.

Are there networking opportunities?

There are ample networking opportunities for interns. As part of the internship, students are encouraged to attend regular Center seminars/lectures given by experienced researchers. Interns are also highly encouraged to network within their own department and to seek out opportunities for themselves.

Will I have opportunities to meet the other interns?

Interns interact during and after program activities and meet informally for lunch and other social activities. Interns may also work together on a research presentation, attend group activities such as a Cancer Center tour, or arrange to shadow another intern for a day.

How do I arrange a day to shadow another intern?

To arrange a day to shadow another intern, each student should start by attending the orientation and other program activities to learn about the other students' research projects. Each student may then submit a request to shadow and/or be shadowed by one student for one day. With the respective mentors' approval, the students may then confirm their shadowing partners and schedule dates.

Where will I be located?

Research projects and other activities are located in offices and laboratories at the UH Cancer Center and JABSOM in Kakaʻako and on the UH Mānoa campus. Transportation between Kakaʻako and UH Mānoa may be required for internship activities.

Is parking provided?

Interns are responsible for their own transportation and parking.

Will there be housing accommodations or assistance in arranging housing?

It is the intern's responsibility to acquire his or her own housing.

Is it OK to take time off during the internship period?

Interns are expected to work full-time (40 hours/week) during May 30th – August 10, 2018 (or modified dates for students with conflicting academic schedules). Vacations, travel, and other activities, such as studying for and taking the MCATs, should be planned outside of the program schedule.

Is there an opportunity to continue my research?

Undergraduates who attend colleges on Oahu may apply for available student assistantships during the academic year. In addition, on-island students will be notified if a research project is seeking to fill a student assistantship.

Are there other opportunities for students who don't meet the eligibility requirements?

Due to the large volume of applicants, it is not possible for the program to assist applicants with finding opportunities outside of the UH Cancer Center internship program. On the Application Form, applicants may designate whether they are interested in being notified of student employment opportunities at the UH Cancer Center.

Here are examples of previous internship projects in population- and lab-based sciences.

Population-based research projects in the Cancer Prevention in the Pacific Program

Research Program Prevention and Control
Mentor Claudio Nigg, PhD
Location UH Public Health Department (Mānoa)
Research Setting Office and community sites (elementary school playgrounds)
Research area Modification of behavioral risk factors for cancer
Project title Sex and Ethnic-based Differences in the Physical Activities of Elementary School Children in Schoolyards
Description Physical Activity (PA) is associated with reduced risks of colon, breast, endometrial, lung, and prostate cancers. Current studies explore the role of PA in cancer survivorship and quality of life, and cancer risk disparities exist across sex and ethnic lines. The purpose of this project was to identify sex -and ethnic- based differences in the preferences of schoolyard activities. The student entered and analyzed survey results, including demographic information (age, sex, ethnic background), ethnic groups (Hispanics, Whites, Others), and a PA checklist. The student also analyzed data from SOPLAY (System for Observing Play and Leisure Activity in Youth) schoolyard scans. The student found that there are popular PA preference trends in schoolyards, including swings, tag games, basketball, monkey bars, and soccer. While significant PA preference differences existed between boys and girls in the study, there were few significant differences between ethnic groups.
Research Program Prevention and Control
Mentor Cheryl Albright, PhD, MPH, and Erica Woekel, PhD
Location UH Cancer Center (Kakaʻako)
Research Setting Office and community sites (off-site recruitment and focus groups)
Research area Modification of behavioral risk factors for cancer
Project title Body, Mind, Yoga for New Moms: A Caring Approach to Increasing Postpartum Physical Activity
Description Physical activity may inhibit the carcinogenic process by reducing fat stores, changing sex-hormone levels, altering immune function, effecting insulin and insulin-like growth factors, reducing free radical generation, and directly affecting the tumor. The student's project involved recruiting 12 women ranging from 6-weeks to 12-months postpartum to participate in a 4-week yoga intervention study aimed at increasing postpartum physical activity. The student analyzed qualitative data from post-intervention participant surveys that assessed why people perform behaviors that put them at higher risk for cancer. The student's results will be used to develop and test physical activity interventions to change behaviors in community settings.
Research Program Prevention and Control; Epidemiology
Mentor Erin Bantum, PhD and Lenora Loo, PhD
Location UH Cancer Center (Kakaʻako)
Research Setting Office
Research area Psychological adjustment to cancer and cancer epigenetics
Project title Hula, a Physical Activity Intervention for Breast Cancer Survivors
Description Moderate to vigorous physical activity (PA) is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer development/recurrence and mortality; improvement in physical function, quality of life, and psychological conditions; and changes in DNA methylation. The student's project involved assessing study designs of previous PA interventions as a context for a new study that promotes hula dance classes for breast cancer survivors. Hula is a culturally relevant behavior that may lead to higher adherence and interest from certain ethnic groups, such as Native Hawaiians, in order to increase quality of life and survival. The results of the student's literature review showed that participants of previous studies preferred moderate, structured exercise with other cancer patients/survivors. In addition, body mass may underlie DNA methylation via high estrogen levels, and DNA methylation may aid breast cancer development in postmenopausal women. The student's findings will be useful for a new study that will evaluate the effectiveness of hula on changing physiological measures (blood biomarkers of genome-wide methylation patterns), as well as psychosocial measures (quality of life, depression, fatigue, and affective states) in cancer survivors. Based on the student's findings, the novel study focusing on hula as a PA intervention shows promise to produce similar results.

Population-based research projects in the Epidemiology Program

Research Program Epidemiology
Mentor Gertraud Maskarinec, MD, PhD and Brook Harmon, PhD, RD
Location UH Cancer Center (Kakaʻako)
Research Setting Office
Research area Nutritional epidemiology
Project title The metabolically healthy obese (MHO) subtype in the obese population of the Multiethnic Cohort (MEC) study
Description Among the obese population is a subset of metabolically healthy obese (MHO) individuals with reduced metabolic risk factors who may constitute a separate clinical entity. The evaluation of the MHO subgroup to understand physiological and behavioral differences may aid in efforts to reduce cancer incidence/mortality rates. The student's project involved a literature search of previous studies that classified obese individuals according to BMI, diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia markers. The student's results provided a context for future studies that will evaluate gender and ethnic differences in the prevalence of the MHO subgroup, compare lifestyles of obesity subgroups, examine cancer mortality rates across obesity subgroups, and determine the effect of lifetime weight history on both MHO and cancer survival.
Research Program Epidemiology
Mentor Lana Garmire, PhD
Location UH Cancer Center (Kakaʻako)
Research Setting Office
Research area Translational informatics of cancers
Project title Finding genetic classifiers
Description Gene expression patterns of breast carcinomas distinguish tumor subclasses with clinical implications. The student's project used microarrays to examine differential genetic expression of breast cancer subtypes. The student utilized computer programming, advanced statistics, and molecular biology concepts to decode genetic information and create a genetic classifier from subsets of clinical data with applicable uses in prognosis and diagnosis. The student filtered and transformed genetic expression data using GSEA and Pathway analyses to find interesting pathway subgroups. These results will be used to to create a predictor model.

Laboratory-based research projects in the Cancer Biology Program

Research Program Cancer Biology
Mentor Marcus Tius, PhD, MS and Francisco Lopez-Tapia, PhD
Location UH Chemistry Department (Manoa)
Research Setting Laboratory
Research area Organic synthesis of anti-cancer agents
Project title Synthesizing STAT3 Inhibitor Molecules
Description STAT3 (Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription 3) is a transcription factor regulated by the STAT3 gene. STAT3 activity induces specific target genes that stimulate cell proliferation, prevent apoptosis, promote angiogenesis, and facilitate tumor immune evasion. Thus, STAT3 is an attractive molecular target for the development of novel cancer therapeutics. The phosphorylation of the phospho-STAT3 Antibody Tyr705 activates STAT3 in response to interferons and growth factors, including Interleukin 5 and Interleukin 6. Once phosphorylated, Tyr705 binds with another STAT3 monomer, Src Homology 2 (dimerization), causing cellular anti-apoptosis, proliferation, and tumor invasion. The student's project involved screening for in vitro potency of the bioavailable fraction of an administered drug that reaches the systemic circulation by synthesizing an organic compound that will inhibit the over-activation of the STAT3 protein. The synthesized compound will be screened for potency in vitro.
Research Program Cancer Biology
Mentor Wen-Ming Chu, MD, PhD
Location UH Cancer Center (Kakaʻako)
Research Setting Laboratory
Research area Inflammation and colon cancer
Project title The role of Gi1-3 a and aspirin in AOM/DSS induced colitis associated colon cancer
Description Guanine nucleotide binding proteins (G proteins) are membrane-associated, heterotrimeric proteins composed of three subunits: alpha, beta, and gamma. G proteins and their G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) form one of the most prevalent signaling systems in mammalian cells, regulating systems as diverse as sensory perception, cell growth and hormonal regulation. Azoxymethane (AOM) is a potent carcinogen used to induce colon cancer in rats and mice. Among the chemically induced colorectal cancer (CRC) models, the combination of azoxymethane (AOM) with exposure to the inflammatory agent dextran sodium sulphate (DSS) in rodents has proven to dramatically shorten the latency time for induction of CRC. The student's project investigated the role of the G protein Gi1-3 a and aspirin in AOM/DSS induced colitis associated colon cancer (CAC). The student's project involved genotyping mice, adding aspirin to the mice's food pellets, injecting a tumor-inducing agent into the mice, adding a tumor-promoting agent to the mice' water. The student then dissected the mice to examine whether there was a significant phenotypic difference between aspirin group and non-aspirin group that would indicate that aspirin plays a role in the prevention of CAC.
Research Program Cancer Biology
Mentor Michelle Tallquist, PhD
Location UH JABSOM (Kakaʻako)
Research Setting Laboratory
Research area Cell signaling pathways
Project title Epithelial and Mesenchymal Gene Expression Profiles of Mesotheliomal Cell Lines
Description The transcription factor TCF21 has been shown to be involved in the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in the developing heart. EMT is an important and necessary step in both embryonic development and cancer metastasis. The student's project examined the role of TCF21 in determining the morphology and epithelial/mesenchymal nature of mesothelioma cells. The student performed lipofections and transductions of TCF21 constructs into the cell lines and used western blots and ICC to verify the transfection/transduction, and also used sq-PCR to look at the native gene expression profiles of the cell lines. These investigations will hopefully help to elucidate the mechanism of EMT in metastatic mesothelioma.