August 7, 2000
Volume 52, No. 39
SURE program leads scientific summer
By Eric Rangus
Research is the lifeblood of the sciences, and for students pursuing careers in science, Emory's Summer Undergraduate Research Experi-ence (SURE) program was better than any visit to the beach.
The program ran for two months (June 5Aug. 4) and wrapped up with an Aug. 3 poster session where students presented the results of the summer research.
SURE's goal is not only to teach undergraduates the basics of research, but also school them in the nuances and subtleties-such as the importance of networking-of becoming better researchers. To do this, SURE pairs students with professors who serve as mentors, guiding them through the often difficult-to-navigate scientific world.
SURE also focuses on opening science careers to traditionally underrepresented groups. Women made up almost half of this year's participants, and nearly one-fourth of the 65 were minorities.
A total of 29 students came from Emory and the remainder came from Georgia schools (Spelman, Morehouse, Georgia Tech, Fort Valley State and Berry College) and from more than 25 out-of-state institutions.
The program reached out specifically to students from other Atlanta institutions in an attempt to strengthen ties to the wider academic community. The effort worked in tandem with the new Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, a consortium of universities including Emory, the Atlanta University Center Georgia Tech and Georgia State that came into being this past fall.
"The center has helped expand the SURE program, which has always supported participants from Atlanta-area schools," said SURE Coordinator Cathy Quiñones. Quiñones is also assistant director of Emory College's Center for Science Education. "Now the collaboration goes beyond our SURE program and involves researchers, undergraduate and graduate students and cross-institutional degrees."
The SURE students' research topics were scattered all over the map, but all were equally at the scientific forefront. They included not only aspects of neuroscience but attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, animal behavior, maternal depression, AIDS, osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease.
In addition to working in the lab, participants also attend several panel discussions related to careers in the sciences. Subjects included the graduate school application process, funding for graduate school and mentoring.
Occasional speakers were also featured-and not all were professors, Quiñones said. Pursuing a doctorate is not for everyone, so presentations included other professionals in the sciences, with graduate students mixed in. Quiñones said it was important that program attendees be exposed to as many options and viewpoints as possible.
Ethics formed another major component of the program. Each week, students met in small groups to discuss issues of constant concern to researchers such as plagiarism, animal research and data ownership.
"We try to teach students that they can and should ask questions," Quiñones said. "Also, if you don't know the answer, you need to find the answer." That is the backbone of research, she added.
Early in the program all students attended a day-long ethics simulation in which group members were assigned "jobs" (research technician, principal investigator, graduate student, etc.) and then required to role-play their way through a scenario that simulated the various steps of a research project.
Along the way, the students were thrown obstacles (a decision to sign a nondisclosure agreement that may come back to haunt them later in the game, for instance) they might encounter during a real project. After the game, the players were debriefed and they discussed what happened.
"You can't work science in a vacuum," Quiñones said. "Every-thing you do is going to affect other people. For instance, if you fudge your data, that will affect future research that uses it. It affects your institution's reputation, the department's and your personal reputation."
The majority of the mentor/student relationships are harmonious, but friction occasionally develops. That's when Quiñones and Pat Marsteller, SURE program director and director of the Center for Science Education, step in wearing their diplomatic hats.
"To some extent there can be miscommunication," Quiñones said. After all, she continued, the students are undergraduates and often are not used to the intensity of daily lab work. Mentors can likewise have unrealistic expectations "I have to take care of the students-because you want them to enjoy the work and become better researchers-and I have to take care of the mentors, because without them there is no program."
On Aug. 3, all the work paid off when the SURE students presented the results of their research projects at a day-long poster session at the DUC. While nine weeks is rarely enough time to compile enough data for an official publication, the posters provided an informative overview of the students' work including preliminary results and graphic displays. The event is not unlike a science fair-without exploding volcanoes or brine shrimp. Honors were given out for the best poster and for scientific writing.
Quiñones said the SURE program takes up about six months of her year. She will soon start a major assessment of the program by sending out surveys to its 600-some graduates (about 90 percent of whom eventually advanced to graduate or medical school) and their mentors. The SURE organizers dream of institutionalizing the program, which has survived on grant money since its beginning.
The Center for Science Education's summer programs do not end with SURE. For instance, the Georgia Industrial Fellowships for Teachers (GIFT) program introduced 1520 Atlanta-area high school teachers to new equipment and some of the latest scientific advances. Like the SURE attendees, GIFT participants were paired with Emory faculty as mentors, and they also gave presentations on Aug. 3.
On July 1721, Vincent Tolbert, a past GIFT fellow and physics teacher at Douglass High, facilitated a program for about a dozen teachers on Rasmol, a molecular graphics program used for molecular modeling. And on July 28, Melissa Demetrikopoulos, a neuroscience educator at Georgia State, wrapped up a week-long seminar on diversity and adaptions in the brain. It focused on middle-school teachers and investigated life science curriculum objectives.The center also coordinates programs for Atlanta-area high school students.