by Dorsa Derakhshan
The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) at the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) connects Bachelor of Science undergraduate and medical students without a graduate degree to distinguished researchers who span diverse domains of research such as cognitive science and bioethics.1 The SURP Research Day is held annually, most recently held virtually on August 11, 2021, where students presented their summer research, networked with faculty, and shared their experience in the program with IMS Magazine.
ORIGIN OF RESEARCH INTEREST
For some students, such as Sophia Farcas, their long-time inspiration in research came from family and friends involved in research who motivated her to connect to distinguished faculty members in their desired field. Others found their passion for research had bloomed from academic courses, such as Vaneeza Moosa, who discovered a newfound interest in neuroscience and physiology. On the other hand, Michelle Weller witnessed a family history of a rare type of cancer, which propelled her interest in pursuing research in the field of surgical oncology and cancer survivorship. Moreover, prior research experience and future career aspirations served as a key inspiration for Melika Dastgheib, who previously had the opportunity to interact with transplant recipients and studied the dynamics of patient communication in medicine.
EXPECTATIONS & EXPERIENCE
Students had hopes of a novel research experience with SURP, distinguished from previous volunteering and work-study positions. In fact, as Melika confirmed, it was found to be exactly that: the one-on-one supervision students received from their mentors rendered the research process more real than ever before. Similarly, for Sophia and Michelle, SURP was a comprehensive academic experience with weekly seminars, graduate speaking panel and networking opportunities. Additionally, direct hands-on experience and exposure to the more practical aspect of research was a particular highlight for Vaneeza. Rose Yakubov also emphasized that the welcoming environment of the lab was conducive to developing strong mentorship relationships as well as friendships.
NEWFOUND KNOWLEDGE & CHALLENGES
A consistent theme among students was that SURP provided them with an instrumental environment for professional and personal growth. Sophia considered the practical experiences of SURP as surreal, since just a year ago, she could not have anticipated being capable of performing surgery on mice now. Likewise, Rose was encouraged to explore new domains of science, such as artificial intelligence and computer science. Melika mentioned the challenges associated with the restrictions due to COVID-19, such as adhering to lab capacity and scheduling responsibilities, which on a positive note, helped improve her time management skills. Employing effective communication skills was crucial, as emphasized by Michelle, especially in the era of Zoom meetings and virtual collaborations.
SURP students expressed their future directions and highlighted the importance of lifelong learning. Pursuing a career in medicine was a particularly pronounced professional goal, especially in conjunction with being involved in clinical research. With the culmination of SURP, it seemed that students were more solidified in their future directions with regards to their education and career aspirations.
- Institute of Medical Science. Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) [Internet]. University of Toronto. [cited 2022 Jan 11]. Available from: https://ims.utoronto.ca/surp