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September 2008 Issue

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Summer Research Programs Jump-Start a New School Year

Published September 2008

Summer research programs may be just what the doctor ordered for students trying to decide between medical school and PhD programs.

Robin Wright says her mind is almost made up—although she’s not willing to go public with her decision just yet. Perhaps she’s even considering a dual degree.

Wright, who enters her senior year this fall in UC’s biological sciences program, has done her homework.

The Finneytown native spent 2007 in the College of Medicine’s Summer Premedical Enrichment Program where she shadowed medical professionals and saw first-hand what medical school curriculum is really like.

She used the summer of 2008 to get a feel for laboratory research—another viable option for the McNair Scholar and Dalton/Zannoni Fellow.

Under the direction of professor Mohammed Matlib, PhD, of UC’s pharmacology and cell biophysics department, Wright gained valuable experience in day-to-day research activities. She worked with Matlib studying a gene that, when activated in mice, makes the heart bigger and its contractions stronger. Increased activation of this particular gene also promotes leanness and decreases fat storage.

This gene could be a target for novel obesity drugs. Much of Wright’s time in the lab was spent determining protein levels in heart tissue.

Matlib and Wright tested the hypothesis that the addition of a phosphate group to a specific protein in the heart cell increases contraction when the gene they are studying is activated, just like in an athlete’s heart. She obtained preliminary data in support of the hypothesis.

Matlib says Wright is an “excellent student and can be a great scientist.” Wright’s summer was capped off with an oral and poster presentation and a technical report of her findings.

She’s keeping UC in mind for her graduate or professional degree and has already talked with Matlib about continuing research in his lab during the 2008–09 academic year.

“You are a part of the leading research going on in the scientific community,” says Wright. “And it’s relevant to current health issues.”

Wright’s experiences would not be possible without structured summer research programs.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, led by UC professor Ron Millard, PhD, and sponsored by the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, provides stipends and, most importantly, access to research faculty and laboratories.

Similar programs funded by the National Science Foundation also place students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) faculty across UC.

One program even offers research opportunities for area high school science teachers. Because undergraduates from across the country can apply, the university also views these programs as a way to promote interest in professional or graduate education programs at UC and throughout the state.

And, Millard says, recruiting STEM students in Ohio is a key goal of these summer undergraduate research training programs and fits well with the goals of UC|21, the university’s academic plan.

“We view summer research programs as a key recruiting tool,” says Millard. “Students who apply for these programs—from freshmen to seniors—are competitive academically and usually have an interest in furthering their education with an advanced STEM degree.

“We hope their summer research experiences here help them to make positive decisions about graduate school. And we know our programs and our faculty have attracted students to UC.”
In fact, Millard says, two UC graduate students and former summer undergraduate researchers— Brian Shoop, pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering, and Michael Tranter, a pharmacology PhD student— served as teaching assistants for Millard’s 2008 summer research programs.

Both were recruited to UC from colleges outside Ohio. For more program information, visit, keylink “current students.” Information can be found under “undergraduate research.”

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