Meet Karuna Vikram, our social media intern!


This summer, Karuna Vikram, a NYC high school student, has helped author a series of posts about material in Toxic Docs. You can read them here here.

We decided to get to know her more, and our interview is below.

Q: Who are you?

I am currently a rising senior at Hunter College High School in New York City and am interested in learning more about ethics and policy in medicine and science.

Q: What got you interested in this project?

I have always been passionate about the natural sciences as well as the social sciences, and this project was at the intersection of my interests. After reading a few of the posts on the ToxicDocs website, I was shocked by the nature of the documents and the level of intimate knowledge companies had about the side effects of the substances they continued to promote, and so I felt motivated to write about this. It was fascinating to see how companies, activists and others used scientific evidence, and how questions of public health get debated, and more often, areneglected.

Q: My understanding is you went to Washington, DC recently and were part of a project where high schoolers talk to people on the beltway. What was that project like and could you tell us a bit about that?

This year I was a part of our school’s Washington Seminar on Government in Action. A few dozen of us wrote letters to various representatives, Supreme Court justices, lawyers, and researchers in think tanks throughout the year, requesting to meet and discuss issues that interested us. We had very intriguing discussions about immigration policy, the Defense budget, and the future of solar energy. My personal favorite was our meeting with an employee of the EPA, where we discussed the role of politics in overseeing and governing research.

Q: You have both an interest in American history and in the natural sciences and are spending this summer working in a lab, in addition to your work with us. What's it like being interested in both and how do you connect the two? A lot of people think of themselves as either a science/tech/math person or a humanities one.

I am truly and equally passionate about both science and history. Regarding scientific research, I enjoy the gritty grind in the laboratory, knowing I am a small part of the latest scientific developments. My interest in history and the social aspects of science motivates me to analyze scientific developments in relation to how they impact people and how politics shape science, which is what I believe is really important.

I think my interest in both humanities and science allows me to see beyond the scientific jargon and appreciate and critique science research today and in the past. It’s important to break down the label of a “science person” or a “humanities person,” especially today, since science needs to be made more accessible and understandable to the public.

Q: What do you think you might study in college next year?

I think I would love to do something interdisciplinary, b**oth broaden and deepen my current interests regarding the ethics and history behind what constitutes scientific research. This would most probably involve a mix of natural sciences and the history and politics of disease. Most of all I want to learn more, use college as an opportunity to take classes outside my comfort zone.

Q: What are you doing for fun in the muggy and often downright gross New York City summer?

This is actually my first summer in New York City since I have spent every other summer in India. In my free time, I am exploring the city. Mostly I am museum hopping and going to cool places to eat that I didn’t have time to visit during the school year. A highlight of my summer in the city would probably be seeing fireflies for the first time. It was well worth traversing the hills in Riverside Park.