Scholars Connect program welcomes class of 2013-2014
By Eddy Ball
With its latest group of Scholars Connect student interns, NIEHS tried something a little different this year — a hands-on laboratory basics boot camp June 3-5, to give participants momentum as they begin their year of training and mentorship in Institute labs.
Unlike a military boot camp, the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) Science Training Workshop relied on positive reinforcement and personalized instruction. The workshop featured a two-hour small group review of the principles of molecular biology and one-hour review of scientific methods and units, followed by two full days of one-on-one instruction on laboratory applications of scientific method, with the very tools and procedures bench scientists use every day in their experiments.
The workshop was developed by Huei-Chen Lao, a biologist on detail as science education and outreach coordinator in the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), and conducted by eight volunteers. NIEHS staff scientist Elena Braithwaite, Ph.D., of the Comparative Genomics Group, and seven postdoctoral fellows, made up the instructional team.
Representing a range of research interests, the fellows included Aleksandra Adomas, Ph.D., of the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group; Miranda Bernhardt, Ph.D., of the Reproductive Medicine Group; Qing Cheng, Ph.D., of the Ion Channel Physiology Group; Jackson Hoffman, Ph.D., of the Chromatin and Gene Expression Group; Sabrina Robertson, Ph.D., of the Developmental Neurobiology Group; Misty Thomas, Ph.D., of the Macromolecular Structure Group; and Wipawee (Joy) Winuthayanon, Ph.D., of the Receptor Biology Group.
As Lao explained, “The lab component of the workshop covered reagent preparation, constructing a standard curve, and using the standard curve to determine the protein concentration of the unknown samples; restriction enzyme digestion of DNA; and gel electrophoresis to separate DNA and protein molecules.” Lao said, she hopes the training gave the six undergraduates, participating this year from universities in the Raleigh/Durham, N.C., area, a head start when they entered their labs.
Part of the NIEHS mission — to increase diversity in the biomedical workforce
Now in its second year, NSCP is aimed at increasing diversity in the environmental health sciences. According to OSED Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., the program is designed to enhance scientific training for highly motivated science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) undergraduate students from surrounding Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other nearby academic institutions with underrepresented minority student populations.
Intern Cathy Jamison is assisting with NSCP and will work closely with the scholars, who will train in NIEHS research groups full time this summer and part time during the fall and spring semesters. Participants, this year, are rising juniors and seniors in STEM programs at Saint Augustine’s University (SAU), North Carolina Central University (NCCU), North Carolina State University (NCSU), and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.
Participants will devote 40 hours per week to training this summer, and may participate in NIH Summer Internship Program activities, including a poster presentation at the end of the summer program. During the 2013-2014 academic year, the scholars will spend up to 20 hours on research-related activities, each week, as paid interns, while they continue their academic programs at their home institutions. Research-related activities include laboratory work mentored by lead researchers, scientists, and postdoctoral fellows, along with literature reviews, participation in lab meetings, and attendance at research workshops and seminars.
The program requires interns to participate in weekly NSCP professional development seminars, where they engage in dynamic dialogues with NIEHS scientists on environmental health research topics. The seminars also aim to further the scholars’ scientific development, through research-relevant software training, in preparation for presenting findings from their own scientific research at the NSCP spring symposium The symposium represents the culmination of three semesters, or connections, of defining a research project, constructing an appropriate hypothesis, and conducting experiments to test that hypothesis.