Summer research programs inspire students to biomedical careers

Anna Brown was about to abandon her dream of becoming a scientist when the Summer Researcher Internship Program at UNT Health Science Center changed her mind.

"I wasn’t certain if research was right for me," said the University of Texas junior. "But this program erased all doubt and showed me the steps I need to take to become a scientist."

Guiding students toward careers in biomedical science is exactly what the 10-week Summer Research Internship Program is all about. Sponsored by the Center for Diversity and International Programs, the internship introduces under-represented minorities to opportunities in science, said Center Director Harlan Jones, PhD.

"We want them to fill their tool belt with the characteristics needed to make themselves competitive," he said. "We hope that most, if not all of them, will one day be performing cutting-edge research."

Ultimately, the goal is to fill the gap caused by fewer minorities in science careers. In 2009, African Americans received less than 2 percent of doctorates in science.

"We realized that the nation is falling behind, and we are trying to meet the demand for technical jobs, in particular biomedical and health professional areas," Dr. Jones said. "We want to give them an opportunity to be successful."

Three internships are offered: Summer Multicultural Advanced Research Training (SMART), the Historically Black College or University Undergraduate Collaborative Summer Training Program in Prostate Cancer, or the Summer Training Among Research Scientists (STARS).  Students work with a faculty mentor, receive a stipend and earn two semester credit hours.

Eric Gonzales, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, said a summer research program in 2000 drove home the importance of mentorship and inspired him to pursue a doctorate.

"It was an eye-opening experience and was where I found my calling to go on to earn a PhD," he said.

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