‘Shared effort’ drives Pittsburgh lab internship for Carls

By opening up their medical lab, Linda McAllister ’87 and Peter Lucas ’87 are giving Carleton students an immersive internship experience.

Thomas Rozwadowski Aug. 28, 2017
Janis Lee '18

Janis Lee ’18 knew where to look and who to contact. But despite her best intentions, applying for internships during her first two years at Carleton proved frustrating.

After all, most listings required some level of previous work experience in order to get hired. Yet how was Lee supposed to get experience if an employer wasn’t willing to give experience?

“I remember hearing from other students about the awesome internships they had, so naturally, you get a little competitive. And I just felt discouraged,” says Lee, a biology major from Fremont, California.

“But the bigger takeaway for me was: How do you gain experience? At what point do you start learning so you can bring more to the table?”

FILLING A NEED

It may have been a much different internship climate when Peter Lucas ’87 and Linda McAllister ’87 were undergrads. But that didn’t alleviate any of the pressure both felt to make professional connections and gain—here’s that word again—experience.

The emphasis on Career Center planning—along with the growing need for multiple internships—has prompted entrenched alumni to bridge some of the gaps that exist for today’s hyper-motivated Carl. With their own lab at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine-Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Lucas and McAllister are in a unique position to help future leaders. The husband-wife duo quickly came to realize the power of their Carleton pedigree.

“We’re part of a different era, and we’re seeing what is possible with help. It provides motivation to participate in students’ lives,” says Lucas, a pathologist and associate professor of pathology and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine-Children’s Hospital. “Maybe we didn’t benefit from the same kind of career planning during our time, but I also think it’s a way for us to fill in what, looking back, absolutely was a need for us.”

“We get to help on a personal level and an institutional level. That’s a really neat combination,” adds McAllister, chief of the division of pediatric hematology/oncology with the Department of Pediatrics. “For one, we get to know these amazing students that intern for us, and it’s a huge honor to add a small contribution to their career development. But it’s also fun to think about helping the institution itself. It keeps our connection to Carleton going.”

McAllister and Lucas have always felt close to their alma mater, but 2016’s Career Center Scholars Program in Medicine spurred both into greater action. After serving as a forum panelist and meeting with students on campus, McAllister worked with Pam Middleton, Carleton’s pre-health advisor, to create a more robust internship pipeline. The couple’s Pittsburgh lab previously hosted a Carl—biology major Rachel Gottesman ’12—during a yearlong opportunity in 2013, but McAllister and Lucas were interested in designing an internship for novices.

Linda McAllister '87, Janis Lee '18, and Peter Lucas '87Linda McAllister '87, Janis Lee '18, and Peter Lucas '87

GAINING MOMENTUM

This summer, Lee has been working in their lab of 13—an intellectual array of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students working toward their PhDs, technicians with PhDs furthering their training, and Medical Science Training Program (MSTP) scholars. It’s a “big mixture of people, ages, and experience levels working shoulder-to-shoulder. It gets crowded,” Lucas says.

Lee joined an in-progress cancer biology project so that her contributions could allow her a publishing credit—an important notch for pre-med students, McAllister says. Specifically, Lee is helping discover mechanisms that drive breast cancer, or “molecular events in cancer cells that promote the likelihood that cancer can metastasize.”

“It’s a short time in our lab, so we wanted to bring her into something with momentum. This way, she can learn, but also benefit career-wise,” McAllister says.

“Most eye-opening to me has been the strong sense of collaboration. It isn’t something that I’ve experienced in labs before,” Lee says. “I get to know both my work and what everyone else is doing. You’re encouraged to ask others about their methods and what they’re working on. It’s not just about your team. I’ve really been brought into their whole world.”

PIPELINE TO CARLETON

Developing an immersive, collaborative culture is intentional—and plays to McAllister and Lucas’ strengths not just as medical experts, but as a couple. Lucas jokes that their work partnership thrives “because I do everything she tells me to do.” McAllister’s response: “Um, yeah, that’s not true.”

“This is an oversimplification, but he’s the creative one, I’m the goal driven one,” she says. “It’s very helpful that Peter has a background in pathology, and mine is in clinical care of patients with cancer. That gives us a different perspective on what questions to pursue.”

“We both take the lead in directing projects, too,” Lucas adds. “At times, one of us is going to be on the periphery because of other responsibilities. And yet that person is always available to provide fresh eyes if one of us is meeting repeatedly with a team about something, or happens to get myopic about their thinking. It really is a shared effort.”

Lee, who would like to pursue a career in pediatrics, is the third intern McAllister and Lucas have hosted in back-to-back summers. Coupled with her two previous internships, Lee can breathe a bit more—she has plenty of new skills to add to her resume before graduation. But perhaps she’s learning something even more valuable. As two married Class of ’87 chemistry majors working side by side can attest, Carls always look out for other Carls.

“By having this pipeline to campus, we know we’re getting great students for our lab. But yeah, it also means a lot to bring someone in from Carleton,” Lucas says. “We know what that bond means.”