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The Catalyst

Summer program gives college students valuable experience

By Emily Upshur
Public Relations

Scott Becker, left, of the University of South Carolina, and William Duffy, of Clemson University, collaborate in the laboratory. Becker studied under Dr. Marion Cooley, Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology. Duffy conducted his research on space-related health with Palmetto Academy. photo by Anne Thompson, Digital Imaging

As the fall semester approaches, students who have been working at MUSC for the summer will return to their colleges with much more than they arrived with.

The MUSC College of Graduate Studies offers a Summer Undergraduate Research Program, inviting students from various colleges across the United States to participate in a 10–week research internship with MUSC faculty in their laboratories. This year MUSC received more than 350 applications from promising candidates, 72 of which were accepted into the program.

To qualify for acceptance into the program, students need to be either rising juniors or seniors. Rising sophomores may also be considered if they have completed the required number of science courses. Each student receives a $4,000 living allowance and 15 credit hours.

“The SURP is designed to give students who are interested in or majoring in biomedical sciences the opportunity to experience research first-hand. The College of Graduate Studies uses it as a recruitment tool. We’re looking for some students who are interested in applying to graduate school and continuing their research areas,” said Stephanie Brown–Guion, director of Summer Research Programs of the College of Graduate Studies.

Students are able to select their top four interests from 22 research areas. After the student accepts the internship, he or she will be assigned a mentor in one of the four chosen areas and the mentor will give the student a project to research. The mentors teach students how to conduct experiments, handle lab animals, write with a science focus, and keep looking for answers.

This guidance helps students grow in their scientific knowledge and mature on a professional level, said Brown–Guion.

Ka’Dedra Creech, a 20–year–old junior from the College of Charleston, studied the subject of pre–eclampsia and its association with hypertension, with her mentor Kyu Ho Lee, M.D., assistant professor of pediatric cardiology. Pre–eclampsia is a condition in pregnant women characterized by high blood pressure and proteinuria, urine that contains an abnormal amount of protein. If left untreated, pre–eclampsia can adversely affect the mother and child. Creech was particularly interested in this research due to her desire to enter the field of cardiology.

College of Charleston student Christopher Austelle gave a persentation July 30 on his research focusing on how visual cues affect alcohol use. He explained how visual cues can stimulate a craving sensation in the brain of an alcoholic. Austelle worked with his mentor, Dr. Colleen Hanlon of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. photo by Emily Upshur, Public Relations

Creech said of the experience, “I’ve done research before, but having Dr. Lee as my mentor was amazing. He made sure I understood why I used a particular method or made a certain decision about the project. He helped me understand the materials and how important our research was. The other members of Dr. Lee's lab, Elizabeth Favre, John Brooker and Hudson Sealey were extremely welcoming and helpful when it came to better grasping complex concepts.”

Robert Gemmill, M.D., the Melvyn Berlinsky Chair of Cancer and professor of hematology and oncology, is a SURP mentor. He believes the program is valuable in that the faculty involved in the research benefit along with the students.

“Their questions force you to think about your work in a different light, and that reflection is always good. Sometimes it can lead you to new avenues of exploration,” said Gemmill.
The SURP students gave their final presentations to their fellow students and mentors July 29–31, describing what they had learned during their time at MUSC. Students spoke with confidence as they explained how their experiments either served to prove their hypotheses or, as in several cases, found their hypotheses to be false. Ultimately, all results provided valuable learning experiences.

Joshua Palmer, who came to the SURP from the University of Connecticut, was one such student. In an experiment aimed at determining how stress affects alcohol consumption, Palmer tested how stressed lab mice responded to intermittent and continuous access to ethanol. Palmer originally thought the stressed mice would drink more ethanol, not less, but his research proved otherwise: The stressors actually decreased the animals’ alcohol consumption.

SURP students from Clemson University, Voorhees College and other institutions work with members of the biofabrication team for their summer experience. photo by Anne Thompson, Digital Imaging

Palmer felt the process presented a valuable learning experience, particularly thanks to Rachel Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow who worked in the lab of Palmer’s mentor, Howard Becker, Ph.D., professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

“Dr. Anderson was absolutely instrumental to my success at MUSC. She worked extremely closely with me and I’m really thankful for her guidance throughout the entire process,” said Palmer.

Another student, Tyler Cheek of the College of Charleston, had part of his hypothesis disproved in his work on embryonic methamphetamine exposure. Reflecting positively on the outcome, Cheek said, “Learning that you can be wrong in science and that it’s not the end of the world is a big step. My mentor, Dr. Sherine Chan in the Department of Drug Discovery, helped me learn that what we are looking for in science are answers, even if they weren’t what you were expecting.”

To find out more about SURP visit

August 8, 2014



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