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Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - Summer program encourages budding chemistry, bio science researchers
By Dan Bodene, contributing writer

One key to maintaining Oakland University’s reputation for research is the availability of talented graduate researchers. And a summer program now going on at OU is designed to encourage undergrads to consider graduate study and research in biological sciences and chemistry as well.

The 12-week Summer Research Program hosted by the departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry wraps up at the end of July, when 17 participating students will each make a presentation on a project they have been assigned, during a wrap-up symposium. The presentations will be steeped in the research techniques and processes they learned during one-on-one sessions with a faculty mentor.

More than 50 students applied for admission to the program this summer, said Andrea Jones, program coordinator. The application process, which began in the winter, included completing an application and submitting a resume, letter of recommendation, two essays and a list of preferred mentors. “It takes a lot of preparation,” said Jones. Applicants can also apply for a number of fellowships that are available.

Besides adding to scientific knowledge through the projects, the program also helps gauge students’ curiosity and aptitude in conducting specialized research, and adds to their credentials if they decide to go beyond undergraduate work.

“One reason students take advantage of this opportunity it to determine if research is what they want to do and to use that experience to help them get admitted to graduate school,” said Amy Banes-Berceli, Ph.D., assistant professor in the biological sciences department. “Many graduate schools give preference in admission to students that have prior research experience.”

Students start with a hypothesis that their mentor formulates and then work on the planning and execution of experiments.

“They learn how to analyze data as well as how to communicate it,” Dr. Banes-Berceli said. “They have an informal talk to their peers to explain their project but then they also have a formal presentation. This is similar to what students would have to do at national and international scientific meetings.”

Xiangqun Zeng, Ph.D., associate professor in the chemistry department, added, “I think the summer research program plays a significant role in the careers of many students who participate, and helps their careers either in industry or academia.”

In fact, one of Dr. Zeng’s former students wrote her to say the program’s research experience led directly to a job with a biotech startup: “… the work I did with you helped me get hired. I thought you might get a kick out of that.”

Many participants in the program have published scientific papers, have gone on to graduate studies and medical schools, and even into business. “One graduate of the program started a business based on her project, which was chromatography for perfumes,” Jones said.

For more information on the Summer Research Program, visit the chemistry department website or the biological sciences department website.