Student Investigators Experience Challenges of Exploration
This summer 65 eager young investigators participated in Northwestern’s Medical Student Summer Research (MSSR) Program. Successfully competing for funding, participants worked with Feinberg School faculty mentors during the 10-week program. While they may not have made great breakthroughs, the students most certainly experienced the challenges of exploration in basic science and clinical research during their summer hiatus.
“We don’t really expect that students will discover a new drug or virus,” says Robert S. Decker, PhD, MSSR program director. “Our goal is to introduce medical students and others to biomedical research. We hope to teach them the basics of the scientific method so that when they enter clinical practice, they will have an understanding, for example, of why a certain drug was used to treat a patient. And maybe some will consider academic medicine as a career choice.”
Geared toward first- and second-year medical students, the program encourages “investigation” early on in the application process. Prospective candidates must explore research opportunities with faculty members and collaborate with their chosen mentors to draft proposals for submission to the MSSR program. “The onus is on the student to find a mentor with whom he or she will develop a worthwhile project that offers a valuable research experience,” explains Dr. Decker, professor of medicine. “This is a peered-reviewed program. Although it is not the National Institutes of Health, we do take the process seriously to ensure the scientific integrity of the proposals.”
Embarking on her second year of medical school this fall, Amy Badger of Seattle spent her summer studying signal transduction pathways to better understand Alzheimer’s disease at the cellular level. Finding a mentor in Linda J. Van Eldik, PhD, professor of cell and molecular biology, Badger became a member of Dr. Eldik’s research team through the MSSR program. “The group has been enjoyable,” describes Badger, “and Dr. Eldik has been very supportive in helping me design experiments and teaching me basic lab work skills.”
As the start of the academic year approaches, many MSSR program participants have started wrapping up their projects across campus and with a variety of faculty members. Their work, however, isn’t over yet. The program requires participants to submit abstracts by mid-fall in preparation for a student poster session to be held October 30 in the Method Atrium.