Undergrads intern in hard science at UAB
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
News staff writer
At first glance, the Great Hall at UAB's Hill Center looked like a science fair Monday, with students explaining their competing research projects and showing off posters.
But the projects, done by 57 summer interns at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, were heads above the average science fair, with titles like "Variations in TASKNIKX and YxCxxF Motifs in eRF1 Alter Termination Codon Recognition in Yeast" and "Ultraviolet Photolysis of Interstellar Ice Analogs."
"It's way beyond a science fair," said Christopher Reaves, director of the university's Office for Undergraduate Research. "It's really high science and it's making advances in the field."
About half the interns are undergraduates at UAB and half attend other schools, including Colorado State University, the University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University.
The 10-week internship program is designed to give undergraduates a chance to work in the school's research labs. It's part of the school's push to give undergraduates the hands-on access often limited to graduate students, Reaves said. It's also meant to lure students, especially minority students and those who may be the first in their families to attend college, into considering graduate school.
Take Synauri Boykin, a senior at Talladega College who spent her summer researching depression in HIV-positive mothers, paying nothing for class and lab time and getting an $1,800 stipend. She's now considering applying to UAB's School of Public Health for graduate school, if she doesn't try for a degree in physical therapy.
"I had no idea about graduate school or anything like that," said Boykin, who's from Camden, a small town in Wilcox County. "This program has given me hope."
Boykin's a participant in the McNair Scholars Program, along with two others from Talladega Colleg e and 25 from UAB, according to Jeff Engler, associate dean for academic affairs at the UAB Graduate School. Other programs represented at Monday's poster contest focus on genetics, physics and biomedical sciences.
Each intern is linked with a professor who acts as a mentor, such as Alan Eberhardt, a professor of biomedical engineering who this summer worked with three undergraduates. He said his lab benefits because the students can get short projects - including testing different materials for hip replacements, as one did this year - out of the way before his in-demand graduate students arrive in the fall.
Students, for their part, like the chance to get to know faculty members.
"You make these connections and learn to talk to professors as an undergraduate," said Matthew Morton, a UAB junior from Trussville who won first place in his category, social and behavioral sciences and public health, for his study of genes in Zambians with HIV.
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