Science majors at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are a dedicated and curious lot. More than 85 percent of biology majors participate in mentored research during their undergraduate careers. “When students choose Carnegie Mellon, they come here with the expectation that they will have a research experience,” says biology professor Aaron Mitchell.
In the past decade, nearly 700 CMU students have participated in the university’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program. To fit the goals and experiences of its diverse student body, the school offers a variety of avenues for participating in research. Some students need an immersive summer experience to get a taste of their chosen future career. Others want to gain interdisciplinary perspective to supplement a degree in another field but need to leave time for other activities, so a part-time research position is more appropriate. A new $1 million grant from HHMI will allow CMU to continue several student research programs it has created to meet these needs.
The newest of them, the Summer Research Institute, takes an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to science. Since 2003, each summer the program has offered 12 students a chance to immerse themselves in full-time, discovery-based research. Forming themselves into three-member teams, these early scientists use genetics, biochemistry, and computational analysis to tackle projects ranging from designing biosensors to piecing together the process of ribosome assembly in yeast.
Many more students, mostly those about to begin their junior and senior years, work in more traditional mentored laboratory environments through the HHMI Summer Scholars and HHMI Summer Researchers programs. The two programs are structured differently to offer some flexibility to accommodate students’ schedules and other needs; both supplement time spent in the lab with opportunities to learn how to communicate about science and discuss career choices with mentors and peers.
“We have a very gifted population of students here at Carnegie Mellon and we can move them much further ahead with the support from these programs. [Our goal is to give them] a deeper understanding of what research is. That has proven to be very effective,” Mitchell says.