Written by Bethany Adamec
The ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship (URF) positively impacts students, sparking their interest in microbiology and helping them achieve success. But it’s not just students who benefit from the URF program – faculty who mentor URF students report increased productivity in their labs, greater funding success, and a honing of their mentoring skills.
Dr. Regina Lamendella of Juniata College has mentored two URF students: Alyssa Grube in 2013 and Nikea Ulrich in 2015. Alyssa studied the Great Prairie soil microbiome, while Nikea examined the impacts of Superstorm Sandy and of fracking on microbial ecology in streams. Both students authored manuscripts resulting from their research. Alyssa’s is in review, and Nikea’s was recently published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Alyssa is now in a Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Nikea, who will graduate this year, won a Goldwater Fellowship in 2016 and is a finalist for a Fulbright Scholarship to perform research in the Space Microbiology lab at the German Aerospace Center in Cologne, Germany.
Dr. Lamendella notes that one of the biggest benefits of the URF program is having a dedicated, paid student in her lab for 10 weeks over the summer. “It’s very hard to find funding for undergraduate research,” she says. Ten weeks allows for plenty of one-on-one research mentoring time with her students, and they can make a lot of progress over the course of the summer, whether it’s collecting samples, processing them in the lab, or troubleshooting bioinformatics techniques.
“As an ASM URF mentor, this fellowship has helped guide my early career,” says Lamendella. “It has given me the opportunity to closely mentor stellar young scientists and obtain a critical level of productivity in both publishing with undergraduate students as well as improving my grant-making skills. For example, the data generated during Nikea’s fellowship was used as preliminary data for our grant recently funded by the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.” She saw a great deal of growth and excitement in her students; their passion for research was ignited by the URF program.
There are some challenges inherent in being an URF mentor. Lamendella notes that unforeseen hurdles sometimes made it hard to stick to the schedule she and her students proposed. But in the end, they got a lot done. She has two pieces of advice for faculty who mentor undergraduate researchers: “My three-year-old son put it best,” she says. “He said, ‘Mommy, you can’t go teach the students’ and I said ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because the students have to teach you.’ I think without the URF experience, I might have underestimated the potential of our undergrads.”
Finally, she advises faculty to use programs like URF as a stepping stone to bigger grants. In addition to using the research results that she and her students generated to be more competitive for federal grants, Lamendella was recently honored with the National Council for Undergraduate Research award for research mentorship in biology. “Success builds on success, and I believe the ASM-URF Program is playing a large role in my success as an early-career scientist,” says Lamendella.
Apply for the ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship—Deadline: February 15, 2017.The ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship provides a stipend for students to conduct full-time summer research at their home institutions with an ASM member, attend the Microbe Academy for Professional Development, and present their research results at ASM Microbe the following year (pending abstract acceptance).
Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.