Published May 14, 2012
UB’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the most highly sought programs in the U.S. for undergraduates exploring careers in biomedical research.
Only in its second year, the program drew 316 applicants from 37 states and Puerto Rico for nine coveted spots in UB labs this summer.
That’s up from 143 applicants in 2011.
“We’re finding word of mouth is at least as important as anything we can do in an organized fashion to get the news out about this program,” says its director, Terry Connell, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology.
“Most major research institutions know about UB—and we never have problems placing our graduate students in good positions—but at the undergraduate level, we’re not as well known as an intensive research institution as we would like.”
At least not until recently, when SURE began to shine a spotlight on UB’s biomedical sciences faculty and the quality of research opportunities available to undergraduates.
So competitive is SURE that students admitted this year have an average GPA of 3.56 as well as extensive research experience.
They hail from as far away as Maine and Washington State. In addition to UB, they attend Duke, Bowdoin, Penn State, Syracuse, St. Lawrence University, University of Colorado at Denver, University of Virginia and Walla Walla University.
Once students are admitted to SURE, they are invited to visit UB’s PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences’ website to learn about faculty and their research.
They are then asked to submit, in order of preference, a list of faculty in whose labs they would like to work.
“I really try to get the best match possible for each student,” says Connell. “This year—as was the case last year—I had no problem placing all nine students. In fact, most of the students had multiple offers from faculty so they had to make a choice.”
Connell also puts the students in contact with their faculty mentors as soon as possible to personalize the relationship from the start.
“I want to catalyze this interaction so it won’t just be a faculty member saying, ‘Yes I’ll take a student’ and then handing him or her off to a graduate student.
“That’s not what this program is about.”
At the end of the summer, SURE students participate in a Summer Undergraduate Research Day.
During the event, they join undergraduates in several other summer research programs within the UB system to present their research in either oral or poster form.
“This venue provides SURE students an opportunity to interact with peers who have a similar passion for research, and gives them a chance to showcase their work,” says Connell.
Although the 10-week research experience is intensive, the SURE Program isn't all work and no play.
It also offers students opportunities to get to know each other and their mentors outside the lab.
Last year, for example, UB faculty accompanied students to Niagara Falls and a Buffalo Bisons baseball game.
“The atmosphere here in Buffalo is informal,” Connell explains. “We expect the students to be on a first-name basis with our faculty. We want them to come to know the faculty as people, since one of the main goals of the SURE program is for the students to determine if a career in research is a good fit for them.”
SURE mentors also want students to get to know UB as a viable option for graduate school should they decide to pursue a doctoral degree.
Last year, of the five SURE students, two applied to UB and one committed to the PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences.
“That probably wouldn’t have happened if that student hadn’t been in the SURE program to learn firsthand about our school, its faculty and the many good things about living in Buffalo,” Connell says.
Connell credits Michael E. Cain, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Kenneth Blumenthal, PhD, senior associate dean for research and graduate education, with helping make SURE a success.
“The students had such a great time last year, and we saw our applications burgeoning, so we went to Dean Cain and asked him if we could enlarge the program,” Connell says. “He agreed without hesitating.”
And the program is showing potential for even more growth.
“We had no problem filling the nine slots this year,” Connell says. “We easily could have taken five or six more really great students.”