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Life Science Summer Undergraduate Research Program students at orientation at Lake Itasca

Students in the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs at orientation at Lake Itasca.

Researching their futures

Undergraduates gain experience in life sciences summer program

By Bob San

Published on August 8, 2005

Corinne Lipscomb has always been interested in graduate school, but she was not sure what field she should pursue. After her experience in the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs (LSSURP) at the University of Minnesota this summer, she has a much better idea. Lipscomb, of Springfield, Illinois, is one of 42 students participating in the 10-week program, which serves high-ability college sophomores and juniors interested in pursuing graduate studies in the life sciences. Students are paired with faculty mentors and become members of research teams that study such subjects as aquatic environmental sciences, molecular biology, and neuroscience. They conduct intensive research, attend weekly seminars, and make poster presentations on their research at the end of the program. The goal of the program is to provide a chance for students--especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups--to learn what university research is like and encourage them to go on to graduate work in the life sciences. According to program coordinator Evelyn Juliussen, the LSSRP, now in its 17th year, was the first in the nation to connect undergraduate students to faculty mentors and graduate-level research. Now many major universities have similar programs, she says.

The program has also been a great recruiting tool for the U--this past fall 17 former LSSRP students enrolled at the University to pursue graduate degrees.

Still, the University of Minnesota's program has many qualities that attract top students from around the country. Lipscomb, a junior majoring in chemistry at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, was drawn to LSSURP because of the opportunity to take a class in the microbiology techniques that are used in biochemistry, and then put those techniques into use with a research experience. She is working with Professor Romas Kazlaukas on a project to develop catalysts for enzymes that are more environmentally friendly. "I'm not only learning about the research I'm doing, but about how a lab works as a whole," she says. "Working in the lab has clarified and reinforced my comprehension of the reactions, techniques, and processes that I've been using." Another feature of the LSSURP is the diversity of its students. This year's students come from 30 different universities; 48 percent are students of color and one third are first-generation college students. They come from as close as St. Paul and as far as Alaska, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Ghana. "Not only do we have diversity in ethnicities, we have geographic diversity and diversity in the colleges they come from," Juliussen says. "The students are saying, 'We have learned so much from each other because of the people in the program.' I think that's one of the reasons why we are so successful." The program has also been a great recruiting tool for the U--this past fall 17 former LSSRP students enrolled at the University to pursue graduate degrees. Lipscomb feels this summer's experience is helping to clarify her academic goals. "This summer research has given me a better understanding about what graduate school entails and what is expected of graduate students," she says. "This experience has pushed me in the direction of fields at the interface of chemistry and biology such as medical chemistry, pharmacology, and biochemistry. I will likely pursue a Ph.D. in one of these fields." The LSSURP will end with a poster presentation by all students on Friday, August 12.

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