If you are interested in a career in research, getting involved in a research program over the summer is one of the best ways to truly get a taste of life at the bench, but depending on your field of study, your "bench" may be the dense foliage of the Amazon jungle (see " For the Love of Nature" by Dr. Emilio Bruna). Regardless of the discipline, students of all ages are enriched by the experience and often return home with a renewed sense of purpose. This article will fondly recount my first summer research experience and provide information on a variety of other summer programs. Remember, now is the time to start filling out applications for 2004.
In the summer of 1989, I was involved in the National Institutes of Health Minority Biomedical Research Support Program (NIH-MBRS). I was a rising senior at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and very excited to be working in a real biochemistry laboratory. My mentor at the time, Dr. N. Datta-Gupta, was a biochemist interested in developing an artificial blood substitute. I knew that heme, the oxygen-carrying molecule in hemoglobin, contained an iron atom within a porphyrin ring (for more information on porphyrin chemistry see this site at Washburn University), but Dr. Datta-Gupta and his laboratory technician attempted to chemically add different metals such as copper, magnesium, or manganese to porphyrins using column chromatography. He hoped to develop a synthetic molecule that would carry oxygen just as well as iron. The discovery would have revolutionized science and relieved some of the pressure on the American Red Cross by providing a temporary blood substitute. Dr. Datta-Gupta's enthusiasm permeated the lab and we all felt that we were making a contribution to humankind.
My typical day consisted of arriving in the lab around 9 a.m. and reading about the latest findings in porphyrin research. Afterward, I'd begin my day of work. There were at least five other undergraduates in the lab, so we all took turns with the daily responsibilities such as washing glassware, archiving journal articles, and preparing buffers for the column resin. The fun part was actually collecting fractions (done by hand in those days) and distinguishing those fractions that contained the metal-bound molecule from those that did not. The fractions with the metal were recognizable because they fluoresced under ultraviolet light.
I enjoyed my summer research so much that I continued working in the lab when classes began that fall and throughout my last year of college. Because of our hard work, my lab mates and I attended the MBRS National Student Conference and presented our research in a poster session. That year it was held in Houston, Texas, and it marked the first of many national meetings I would attend. Yes, the research bug bit me back then and that first "hands-on" project helped define my career trajectory for the next 13 years.
Dr. Ayanna Howard, MiSciNet's featured scientist, also credits her summer research experience at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for introducing her to her present specialty, artificial intelligence. Read " Fuzzy Logic, Adventures in Artificial Intelligence."
Minority Summer Research Programs
By now I hope you realize that summer research programs are fun and rewarding. If I've sparked your interest, the next step is actually searching for summer programs and finding one that fits your needs, so where do we begin? The answer is easy-- GrantsNet, offered through Science's Next Wave and sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. I searched the undergraduate database by typing "summer research programs" into the text search box and received information on approximately 100 programs that had those three words anywhere in the text. Please keep in mind that below I've only listed a few of the many programs available. For a more exhaustive listing with contact information, application process, and more, go to GrantsNet and do your own search.
The American Heart Association Undergraduate Student Research Program--Western States Affiliate
The program is intended to attract students to consider careers in cardiovascular or cerebrovascular research. The 10-week summer program will take place in biomedical labs in California, Nevada, and Utah. The application deadline is 2 February 2004.
Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF) Summer Fellowship Program
The program seeks to attract students interested in the etiology, pathogenesis, and treatment of Parkinson's disease. The 10-week program will take place at the PDF in New York City. The application deadline is 1 April 2004.
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Oceanography
The program is intended for those who will have just completed their junior year. The 11-week program will take place at the University of Rhode Island. The application deadline is 15 March 2004.
Kentucky Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network Undergraduate Summer Research Opportunity
The program is intended for those who are interested in gene-based research and/or bioinformatics. The 10-week program will take place at the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville. The application deadline is 1 March 2004.
NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds
The program is designed for students from disadvantaged background who are interested in biomedical, behavioral, and social science health-related research. Students will do research at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, during the summer and after graduation. The application deadline is 28 February 2004.
U.S. Department of Energy--Fermilab Summer Internships in Science and Technology for Minority Students
The program is designed for those interested in physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. The application deadline is 28 February 2004.
GrantsNet on MiSciNet
GrantsNet is an invaluable resource for students, postdocs, and junior faculty because it provides access to literally hundreds of funding opportunities. Are you looking for a specific type of program or are you interested in studying abroad? With GrantsNet's two databases, undergraduate and graduate/postgraduate, you will be able to find exactly what you are looking for. Take advantage of this FREE service by visiting the Web site and signing up.
Robin Arnette is editor of MiSciNet and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.