by Mike Schatz and Anne Churchland**
Each summer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory hosts 25 visiting undergraduates, affectionately known as “URPs,” after the historic program in which they participate. The Undergraduate Research Program began in 1959, and provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to study and work side by side with some of the world’s most renowned scientists, and thus to experience cutting-edge research first-hand. The program has a history of excellence, with an alumni list that includes Nobel Prize winners, distinguished professors, and world leaders in research and business who credit the program for fueling their interests.
This year’s motivated and enthusiastic students arrived in early June from colleges and universities across the country and around the world. They were united by a passion for science and a desire to explore that passion in an intense research environment. Each young person was paired with a CSHL laboratory, and teamed up with its senior members to plan a project that would carry them through their 10-week stay.
Many of the students joined labs whose focus was quite different from their undergraduate studies so far. We had an aspiring chemist in a plant biology lab, for instance, and a would-be cell biologist in a bioinformatics lab. Without exception the students were undaunted: perhaps they were inspired by the long history of URPs at Cold Spring Harbor, or perhaps the enthusiastic assistance from senior faculty members made even the apprehensive feel at ease and ready to experiment.
Throughout the summer, the URPs executed their research and were enriched by a series of scientific presentations from the CSHL faculty with a special emphasis on bioinformatics and computational biology. The summer culminated with a two-day symposium wherein each student gave a presentation on the progress of the project. Topics were wide-ranging, and included projects on the genetic basis of schizophrenia, the genome of the pineapple, the neurobiology of movement planning, and the role of inhibitory neurons in autism (see more detail on this last item in Anne Churchland’s lab blog).
Now that the program has ended, the URPs for 2012 have returned to their home institutions. We’ve noticed the campus is a little quieter without their exuberant presence. We hope they will take with them their newly acquired knowledge about existing science, and expect they will soon be applying their new skills in generating scientific advances.
**Mike Schatz and Anne Churchland are Assistant Professors and leaders of laboratories at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Dr. Schatz is a quantitative biologist; Dr. Churchland is a neuroscientist.