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Enjoying one of several outings during the first Vanderbilt International Summer Research Academy were (first row, from left) Zuzana Tatarova, Vibol Heng, Kim Dierkes, Sukrati Sharma, Sara Kalman, (second row, from left) Diana Brauswetter, Katarina Vaskovicova, Zhuoran "Jerry" Li, Petar Stupar and (at top) Sheridan Carrington. Not pictured: Michael Lueckmann and Konstantin Richter.

Program gives undergrads a feel for lab research

BY: LESLIE HILL

9/15/2011 - Twelve students from around the world were given a taste of working in an American research lab during the inaugural Vanderbilt International Summer Research Academy (VISRA).

The academy is part of the new Vanderbilt International Scholar Program (VISP) initiative, which also includes recruiting international students for graduate education.

The eight-week program is designed for international undergraduate students considering careers in biomedical research.

Based on their areas of interest, participants were paired with a primary investigator in a variety of departments across campus.
The 2011 cohort included students from Barbados, Cambodia, China, Germany, Hungary, India, Serbia and Slovakia.

“The first summer of VISRA was a great success. All of the VISRA students reported that it had been very influential in their thinking, cementing their desire to pursue graduate studies and greatly diminishing their hesitation of doing so in the U.S.,” said Kathy Gould, Ph.D., VISP director and professor of Cell and Developmental Biology.

VISRA is free to participants and includes travel and housing expenses, help with visa applications and a stipend.

In partnership with the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy, students attended weekly journal club meetings and seminars to learn more about scientific research, ethics and preparatory exams.

They also went on outings to Mammoth Cave National Park, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, Nashville Sounds baseball games and rafting on the Ocoee River. At the end of the summer, the students presented their research at a poster symposium.

“They really bonded and became a cohesive group, and even went on their own outings to see movies and ice skate,” said VISRA coordinator Amanda Connolly. “One of their biggest fears was that eight weeks was not enough time to get a lot of data, but our steering committee was impressed with what they accomplished in their time here.”

“The primary purpose of VISRA is to increase the international profile of Vanderbilt. It’s also a recruiting opportunity to find great students. Over the next two or three years, we’re curious to see which end up applying to Vanderbilt Ph.D. programs,” Connolly said.

Gould added, “VISRA is a simple way of showcasing the outstanding training and research environment at Vanderbilt, and the fabulous quality of life that can be enjoyed in Nashville.”

Sheridan Carrington, a participant from Barbados, has already secured a spot next year as a research assistant in the lab of Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., Lee E. Limbird Chair in Pharmacology.

In a final survey of participants, 100 percent said they would recommend the program to their friends, and organizers are expecting a sharp increase in applications for next year.

Applications are now open and accepted through Feb. 1, 2012.

For more information, visit www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/visp/visra.html.

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