SURP's success, Center's appeal draws interns nationwide

Record number of applicants underscore the Summer Undergraduate Research Program's academic rigor and reputation for providing high quality research experience
Dr. Vikas Goel mentored 2009 SURP student Ashley Dotson, who is back in the Hingorani Lab working as a research technician. Photo by Dean Forbes

The Hutchinson Center's Summer Undergraduate Research Program is proving, if you build a great program, the students will apply—by the hundreds. The 20-year-old internship program typically receives about 170 applications. This winter nearly 300 college juniors applied—from institutions all across the United States.

"Equally impressive was the diversity of applicants," said coordinator Jennifer Anderson of the Public Health Sciences Division. "These are strong indications that we've gained national recognition for the breadth and quality of research experiences available and the academic rigor of our curriculum."

Designed to help students prepare competitive applications for graduate or medical school, the SURP's nine-week curriculum includes:

  • Weekly professional development workshops
  • Research seminars
  • Social activities designed to foster interaction among students
  • A competitive poster presentation in mid-August

From the record number of applicants, Anderson, Drs. Katie Peichel of the Human Biology Division, and Julian Simon of the Clinical Research Division selected 30 for this year's program. The students will arrive on campus June 12 to start working with mentors in the students' areas of research interest.

Strong faculty support

"One reason that our program has gained such a strong reputation is that faculty members are really excited to bring these students into their research groups," said Peichel, program director. "We often have inquiries from faculty members asking us whether they can have a student, which speaks to the high quality of the students we attract."

"In addition to the outstanding resources offered, the SURP is unique in that it's not a one-size fits all program," Anderson said. "We have the flexibility to tailor our curriculum to meet the individual needs and aspirations of our trainees."

Long-term mentorship shapes careers

"The research associates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty who serve as mentors are committed to helping these students achieve their goals. In fact, they often continue to provide them with support and mentoring well after the summer program has ended," Peichel said.

"Participating in the SURP has played an integral role in my career path because it showed me that I have the capacity to learn at the highest level by thinking critically and analytically," said Ashley Dotson, a 2009 SURP alumna, currently working as a research technician in the Hingorani Lab while preparing her application for medical school. "Engaging in the investigative process allowed me to step back and assess every situation and every outcome. In my opinion, these skills are invaluable and will translate to my ultimate goal, which is to be a clinician."

Growing intern opportunities on campus

The successful SURP is now part of a larger Centerwide internship program. Managed by Scott Canavera in Human Resources, the Center's new Internship Office will support established programs such as the SURP while providing one centralized door for increased opportunities for students and mentors alike.

"SURP is exactly the kind of program I want to highlight and support," said Canavera. "SURP is really doing fantastic things for the next generation of scientists, particularly during a critical stage of an undergraduate's career. When undergraduates come to participate in SURP as rising seniors, they are really at a branch point in their education and need to decide what branch they are going to take. SURP enables them to make an informed decision and then supports them in that decision."

Internship programs at the Center are invaluable, Canavera said, because of the large role they play in the Center's overall efforts to promote diversity in science, engage the community and train high school, undergraduate and post-graduate students.  

Funding internship programs

The SURP receives funding from the Cancer Center Support Grant CURE supplement, the Hutchinson Center/New Mexico State University U54 award, Whitman College/Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant, the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program, and the Hutchinson Center.

Other internship programs and partnerships receive funding through grants, individual labs or departments, or through Center funds from the Internship Program Office.

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