SciFest VIII wrap-up

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The Brandeis University Division of Science held its annual undergraduate research poster session SciFest VIII on August 2, 2018, as more than one hundred student researchers presented summer’s (or last year’s) worth of independent research. We had a great audience of grad students and postdocs (many of whom were mentors), faculty, proud parents, friends, and senior administrators.

SciFest VIII by numbers

  • 105 posters
  • 105 student presenters out of approx. 175 summer student researchers
    • 84 Brandeis students
    • 2 international students (from India)
    • 19 visiting domestic students
  • 41 Brandeis faculty advisors from 7 departments
    • Biochemistry (7)
    • Biology (17)
    • Chemistry (5)
    • Computer Science (1)
    • Mathematics (1)
    • Physics (7)
    • Psychology (4)
  • 12 different Brandeis undergraduate majors represented

REU Students Arrive for 2016 Summer Research

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Amber Jones and Susan Okrah

Alongside the more than 100 Brandeis science undergrads doing research this summer, there are 19 students who are participating in our Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs. Some students are from Brandeis, but most call universities in Kansas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey their academic homes. Eight students are from Hampton University as part of the Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) initiative between Hampton and Brandeis. The two universities are focused on fostering interest in research science in under-represented groups of undergraduates.

The two independent REU programs were each created 6 years ago with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a goal of providing a 10-week period of intensive lab research experience to rising sophomores and juniors interested in scientific careers. Professor Susan Lovett is the director of the Cell and Molecular Visualization REU and Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason is the director of the Material Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) REU.

The online application process required each student to submit a transcript, two letters of recommendation and write two essays describing their research experience (if any) and their academic and research goals. This year, 8 students are participating in the MRSEC site; 11 students are working in the Biology-based Cell and Molecular Visualization REU.

Amber Jones, who is going to be a junior at Hampton University this fall, is working in the Avi Rodal lab where she is researching how proteins can be taken on and off of cell membranes. From here, she is hoping to target specific proteins that will ultimately aid in disease research.

Amber has worked in a lab before, but believes nothing could have prepared her for her experience at Brandeis. Her REU lab work has been very involved, but she wasn’t expecting the ups and downs that are a part of lab research. The graduate students and other lab members have been supportive. She has been told “it’s okay; it’s science!”

Returning REU student, Alex Cuadros is working in the Liz Hedstrom lab, says he can go to Cell and Molecular Visualization REU coordinators Cara Pina and Laura Laranjo for assistance. They “have more experience in the lab and they tell me that things don’t always work for them. They say that ‘it’s just part of the science’.”

Nicholas Martinez, who is working in Timothy Street’s lab said, “The biggest challenge I have encountered this summer with my research is being able to do cope with disappointment. Since I am working on a defined timetable and my time here at Brandeis is limited, I want to make as much progress as possible with my research.”

Susan Okrah is working in the Seth Fraden lab this summer. She believes this experience is different from a Chemistry class at Hampton University where you are given an experiment and the results are known. In the REU program, students are given a project that is a subset of their lab’s research. Unlike school, the outcome of their research is unknown. Susan said, “We are given a direction and told to see if it works.”

Alex said that in class he has learned how to do experiments, but at Brandeis he is “doing something that has not been done before so there’s no right method.” It’s also helpful to be able to ask advice about how to approach his research and “Then you go back and you figure out how to do it. You are forced to think independently.”

During the academic year, Alex works in a Biochemistry lab at UMass Amherst. He landed the job last fall as a direct result of his 2015 REU research. How did he get the job in a very competitive environment on the large UMass campus? He presented the poster that he prepared for SciFest 2015.

The most valuable lesson learned this summer? “Resilience” said Amber. Learning to cope with the changing tides of research is important. As Susan said, “people don’t really understand what goes into research until they’re here.”

Part of the REU program involves attending journal clubs and lab meetings, but the most valuable experience of this program is simply being in a lab. Both Amber and Susan agree that anyone thinking about a career in research should go through an intensive research experience such as this. Jones noted, “I wasn’t really expecting to get this type of understanding. I really appreciate that now that I’m here.”

Both Nicholas and Alex ultimately would like to attend graduate school. For Nicholas, “being able to participate in the Cell and Molecular Visualization REU program at Brandeis has been a great opportunity for me to diversify my knowledge and skill set in scientific research prior to applying for graduate school next year. This It has been a great way for me to gain experience in a new area of research that I am interested in and to become part of a different scientific community.”

The REU students are hard at work wrapping up their research and preparing their posters for the SciFest 2016 poster session that is scheduled for Thursday, August 4.

Biology research experiences at Brandeis (Summer 2011)

Thanks to new funding from the National Science Foundation, starting in Summer 2011 Brandeis will offer a new research experiences for undergraduates (REU) program in Cell and Molecular Visualization. This new grant, organized by principal investigator Susan Lovett, will provide funding for 10 undergraduates to spend 10 weeks at Brandeis in the summer doing independent research projects in close collaboration with faculty mentors. NSF REU programs place special emphasis on providing research opportunities for under-represented groups in science, and for students whose colleges cannot provide cutting-edge research facilities.

The new program will join Brandeis’s  existing MRSEC REU and other summer research activities in providing a lively atmosphere for young researchers. This competitive program will provide stipends of $5000 each plus housing and meal allowances. Participants must be US citizens or permanent residents, and should have completed their sophomore or junior year of study and be enrolled in an accredited undergraduate college or university. Further information including an application form is available on the Biology website.

Being given the opportunity to do research as an undergrad was amazing, fun, intellectual, and extremely useful; I’ve done it for two summers now.   At the beginning of my college career I was pre-med, but it only took a summer of research to help me realize that I actually want to do science over the course of my career […]

(see more quotes from undergraduates about summer research)

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