New WUSTL students get a taste of research

Over the past 22 years, nearly 400 students at Washington University have spent their summer prior to freshman year getting to know more about research through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-sponsored Summer Scholars in Biology and Biomedical Research (SSBBR) program. High school seniors apply to this fellowship when they are applying for admission to Washington University. Those selected are matched with a faculty mentor on the Danforth Campus, as well as at Washington University School of Medicine. Kathy Miller, PhD, professor of Biology and ISP Faculty Fellow, serves as the HHMI principal investigator.

Erik Herzog, PhD, professor of Biology and ISP Faculty Fellow, has been mentoring new students for 13 years. When asked why he became involved in the program, he stated, “The best ways to teach involve discovery. The SSBBR program is a perfect venue to help students learn through hands-on discovery.” In his opinion, the benefits to WUSTL students go beyond the bench research. “The students meet peers who are, like them, interested in biology and research. They get to know a professor and a professor gets to know them,” Herzog states. “The students master the scientific process of design an experiment, execute it, and then analyze, describe and interpret their data. They gain valuable skills in writing and presenting their results.”

This summer, Ryan Speese, a student from Chicago, has been working in the Herzog lab for several weeks, and has already seen how her perception of what a researcher does has changed.

“I have learned a lot of things regarding procedures and analysis but one of the most unexpected yet important things I have learned is how to interact with the other people working in your lab. Nobody in the lab can get through a day without someone else’s help so it is very important to learn how to communicate effectively with them.”

While on campus for the summer, the students live together, register for classes, attend seminars and participate in activities designed to introduce them to their new home for the next four years.

Speese says, “Applying for this program was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have learned so much and met so many different types of people. The SSBBR program enabled me to become more independent and responsible before I enter one of the most important chapters of my life.”

For additional information about the Summer Scholars in Biology and Biomedical Research program, contact Amy O’Brien, 314-935-7170.