Rachel Brooks '25

Internship: The Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research (CFAAR)
Program: Summer Social Impact Internship (SSII) Fund
Concentration: Prospective English major on pre-med track

Why did you choose your internship?

I chose this internship because I myself am allergic to milk, egg, peanuts and tree nuts. I also lead a national nonprofit organization called Securing Safe Food, which partners with food pantries across the U.S. and provides allergen-free foods for individuals and families with medical dietary restrictions who may be at risk for food insecurity. 

So I have this particular interest at the intersection between food allergies, other atopic conditions like asthma and food insecurity or unreliable access to safe, healthy foods. I initially reached out to CFAAR in hopes of launching a food insecurity screening pilot in the Lurie Children's Hospital allergy clinic, connecting their patients who screen as food insecure with allergen-free food resources in the Chicago area. 

Besides that more niche interest, I more generally wanted to improve my scientific writing and research skills across the board. 

What did you learn?

Through this opportunity, I learned to do things like create an IRB submission from the ground up, conduct a thorough literature review, design a survey in REDCap, etc. But I think more importantly I realized that medicine, and by extension medical research, is really at its essence a team effort. 

Just as I was looking to my mentors and supervisors for feedback and support on the work I was doing, I also saw and observed how members of the CFAAR team were really coming together and building off of each other's contributions whether they were physicians, data analysts, researchers or study coordinators. 

Research is something more fluid and collaboratively buildable. Previously I thought of it as something more independent and introspective. I was reminded about how research and inquiry are really community-oriented at their core. 

How do you think this opportunity will impact your career path and/or future goals?

This internship has also confirmed my interest in pursuing public health research in the future. I think that I now see the results and the impact of epidemiology more clearly. It can affect medical spheres, healthcare, patients, but also has an impact on public policy and social awareness as well as in the community within and beyond medicine. 

Related to that is this really unique role of the physician that I now see. One on hand, working in the healthcare and patient setting, obtaining the knowledge that's needed for those initial research aims and inquiries, and on the other hand the physician has this role of intervening within the community itself and being the public voice of research findings in order to enact a measurable community change. 

What has been most memorable for you?

Creating the IRB submission from the ground up, because I've been able to be exposed to new aspects of the research process and improve my research skills like dividing study aims, objectives, rationale, background, statistical methods, consent process, data capture, etc. 

It's been really satisfying to lay the framework for a study that is going to take place and then waiting to see how it's going to unfold in the future. I am planning to submit the IRB application in the coming weeks and I'm looking forward to what lies ahead in the next year.