2009 Summer Undergraduate Research Program-Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

2009 Summer Undergraduate Research Program

The hallways and laboratories of the Mellon Institute were a flurry of activity this summer as the Department of Biological Sciences hosted the 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). This long-standing program allowed 86 students from Carnegie Mellon and outside institutions to participate actively in sophisticated and rigorous research projects.

Begun officially in 1987, the SURP has developed into the umbrella program that it is today through the support of diverse programs such as the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Beckman Foundation, the USDA, and the Pennsylvania Tobacco Settlement Fund. Over the years, several hundred students, working directly with their faculty mentors, have honed their scientific abilities at the bench and computer.  According to Emily Stark, who coordinates the SURP, “total, sustained immersion in meaningful, mentored research at an early stage of a student’s training has been the defining mode of the SURP.”

High expectations abound. “I was constantly challenged, both in terms of critical thinking and sheer will power, to achieve the highest standard of work I was capable of,” stated Alex Ellison, an NSF-REU student in the SURP, working with Dr. Ziv Bar-Joseph. Kellie Kravarik, an HHMI Scholar in the SURP, working with Dr. Brooke McCartney also said, “Intensively researching throughout the summer was the most productive and challenging experience I believe I could have had. Additionally, it was the most fun.”

Besides being challenged intellectually and within the laboratory, the SURP students also have an opportunity to attend professional development seminars, faculty talks and social activities. This unique program offers the students a small glimpse into what graduate school entails. “My main hope in coming to Carnegie Mellon was to gain insight into what graduate school would feel like and to further my experience in a lab setting. I accomplished both of my goals with a renewed sense of direction towards graduate education in the sciences,” said James Hopkins, an NSF-REU student from Wells College who worked with Professor David Hackney, Principal Investigator of the NSF-REU program.

During the final week of SURP, the students showcase their findings and display their presentation skills in both a poster session and formal symposium. “ The quality of our SURP poster presentations and talks was just astounding. I remain incredibly impressed by the intelligence, imagination, and dedication of our students, and by the superb mentorship that our faculty and their lab members provide,” said Professor Aaron Mitchell, Director of the HHMI programs.

Filling two enormous conference rooms, 58 SURP students took part in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) poster session on July 28. Their posters topics spanned the areas of neuroscience, cell biology, evolution, organic and inorganic chemistry, and more. Click to view a complete listing of the students and their poster titles.

On July 30, 16 HHMI-supported students, nine NSF-REU-funded participants and one USDA-sponsored student presented at the SURP symposium. The presentation topics included gene function analysis in Candida albicans, signaling pathways to tissue morphogenesis, the development of novel protein purification techniques and many others, which are viewable in the event program.

For more information about SURP, visit: http://www.cmu.edu/bio/research/undergrad_research/summer

To view more photos from the SURP program, visit: http://www.bio.cmu.edu/news_photos/surp_2009/