Summer Course in Biophysics: Helping Students Open Doors Since 2008

For the fourth year running, we’re knee-deep in the annual process of taking applications for our Summer Course in biophysics, an NIGMS-funded research program that pays for (and indeed pays) minority undergrads to spend a summer being introduced to biophysics, complete with one-on-one mentors, unlimited time in the lab, and social events as well—including trips to a ball game and the beach. To top it off, students get college credit at their home institutions and a really sweet bullet point for their résumés. But in my experience, Summer Course students get so much more.

The BPS Summer Course took a few iterations before becoming what it is today: an in-depth overview, if there is such a thing, of the basics of biophysics. The Society used to host a mini-course, which hopped between a few participating universities, and the overwhelming response prompted staff to look into getting funding for a more developed version of the Course. Barry Lentz, devoted Society member since 1979 (he even served a term as BPS President), helped procure a grant from NIGMS to prolong the mini-course and deepen its content. The grant was awarded in 2008, alias T36-GM075791, and thus the Summer Course began in earnest.

This is my first go-round with the application recruitment side of the Summer Course. Last year, I attended the Closing Ceremony on the last day of the Course, which featured detailed presentations from each student about his or her research. At the subsequent celebratory dinner for the successful Course graduates, the exuberant now-alums focused on what they had learned throughout the summer. Their comments went way beyond their research results.

They discussed how they had changed as people from the start to the end of the Course: How they had grown into someone not afraid to speak in front of a group, or found ways to leverage teammates’ skills in different disciplines during study groups to really understand the material, or discovered inner resources they never knew they had and learned how to rely on them when faced with the Course’s many challenges. Most of all, they expressed gratitude for being granted this invaluable opportunity.

As I watched the students bounce out of the dining room to pack their belongings for the trip home, chatting animatedly about the next steps for their research, I remember thinking that admission to the Summer Course was not something the Society gave these kids. They got themselves admitted—through their initiative to go out and find something they believed would improve how they live and think and function as people and as scientists; through the strength of their applications against the competition; and through their determination to seize a chance at an opportunity being presented to them and take it for their own. These kids fought for, and won, this opportunity to grow as scientists and as people. It’s a notch in their belts preparing them to walk through the next door they open in their scientific careers.

Here in the Society office, applications from students eager for just this kind of experience are pouring in. I can’t wait to meet the Biophysical Society Summer Course Class of 2011.

There is still time to open a new door in your scientific career! Applications for the 2011 Summer Course, taking place May 17 – August 6, are being accepted through March 1. Check out our website for more information.

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