The Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine has a great group of interns working for it this summer. One of them, Shea Jennings, an intern in public affairs, files this report on two students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who are interning in the CIM laboratories with the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program.
* * *
Young Researchers Catching Waves with Mayo Clinic SURF Program
M.D.s, Ph.D.s, M.D.-Ph.D.s, Pharm.D.s. Scan a list of Mayo Clinic researchers, and you might mistake it for alphabet soup. It’s no secret that Mayo attracts some of the brightest and best-educated minds in medicine. This summer, however, the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine (CIM) is hosting a group of young researchers still in pursuit of their first academic degree, but they are already equipped with the innate curiosity and passion for discovery that characterize top researchers.
Five undergraduate students from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign are spending the summer at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program. Sponsored by Mayo Graduate School, the 10-week program immerses college students from across the nation in the cutting-edge research and unique culture of Mayo Clinic. Each student is matched with a host lab at Mayo, where he or she conducts a research project or contributes to the lab’s ongoing investigations.
Through a special research partnership between CIM and the University of Illinois, up to five spots in the SURF program are reserved specifically for Illinois students. The Mayo-Illinois Alliance for Technology-Based Healthcare was created in 2010 and unites Mayo’s clinical and research expertise with Illinois’ strengths in technology, engineering and life sciences, in order to advance research and clinical treatment options in individualized medicine. In addition to funding research activities and technology development, the Mayo-Illinois Alliance supports research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as continuing education programs for professionals.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” says Vivian Chu, a senior and bioengineering major at Illinois who is in her second year in the SURF program. “We experience what being a grad student would be like, because that’s how we’re treated in this program.”
The SURF program helps students develop a solid foundation of technical skills that can be applied across many areas of research. For instance, while studying asthma in her first summer with SURF, Vivian learned how to perform an in-cell Western assay, a technique for studying protein expression on a cell-by-cell basis. This year, she’s using that same technique to research idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in the lab of Daniel Tschumperlin, Ph.D. Since her project mentor, a postdoctoral researcher, is unfamiliar with the assay, Vivian’s knowledge is a valuable asset to the entire lab.
The learning opportunities extend far beyond the laboratory bench. SURF students attend seminars that cover rapidly growing research areas, participate in journal clubs with other labs, and explore career options in the biomedical sciences.
Stephanie Youssef, another Illinois senior, says that her SURF experience has broadened her interest in the clinical side of translational research. “The unique thing about Mayo is that M.D.s, M.D.-Ph.D.s, and Ph.D.s work so closely together that you can pretty much have access to anyone,” says Stephanie, who is majoring in molecular and cellular biology and researching osteoporosis in the lab of Merry Jo Oursler, Ph.D. “I’ve been lucky enough to be able to shadow some doctors and see how successful it is when research and patient interaction collaborate.”
To culminate their summer at Mayo, SURF students will present their research to peers and the Mayo community at a poster symposium on July 29.
What’s next for these budding investigators? Thanks in part to their SURF experience, many plan to pursue advanced degrees that will prepare them for a career in biomedical and translational research. “I’ve seen how well patient care and research mesh,” says Stephanie, who is now considering an M.D.-Ph.D. program after completing her bachelor’s degree. Vivian is also looking at graduate programs where her interest in engineering could have clinical impact.
So keep an eye out for their names. Though the degrees are yet to come, these young leaders represent the future of research in health care.
— Shea Jennings is an intern with the Mayo Clinic Department of Public Affairs which supports the Center for Individualized Medicine. A senior at Yale University, she is studying political science and health politics.