Students participating in summer research programs across UChicago gathered on August 8, 2023, for a picnic to celebrate the end of their programs and meet other students and mentors to share their experiences.
A PhD is a critical yet intimidating hurdle to cross for undergraduate students considering a career in the biosciences. One key step in preparing for graduate school is accumulating work experience through independent research in a lab. However, not all schools are equipped to place undergraduates into research labs, particularly small liberal arts colleges. This creates disparities in the sciences, as students attending large research-intensive institutions can access research laboratories to develop their skills at the bench while students attending smaller schools often cannot.
To address these disparities, institutions such as the NIH, NSF, and the University of Chicago offer summer research programs pulling students from across the country into research labs. From neuroscience to public health, these students can hone their skills at a prestigious university and establish a network of connections to the science academy.
These summer research programs serve another critical function in the development of a diverse science workforce—they also provide opportunities for networking and connection within the community. The experience of being a scientist with a background that is underrepresented in science is isolating. As these students confront the phenomena known as the “hidden curriculum,” where academic norms and expectations are not explicitly stated yet rigorously enforced, students from underrepresented backgrounds can feel lost, inadequate, and discouraged from continuing careers in science. Summer programs establish lifelong friendships networks and connections that help normalize these challenging experiences and share knowledge to navigate the complexities of academic life.
The Biological Sciences Division’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosts the annual Summer Pathway Program Picnic to ensure that students in various UChicago summer programs are connected to each other. These parallel research programs rarely intermingle during their research work, so the picnic is a valuable opportunity for budding researchers to meet, from cell biologists to neuroscientists.
Completing a summer research position is a major accomplishment, especially at an institution like the University of Chicago. The work these students conduct is fast, rigorous, and demanding, so it’s important to celebrate their accomplishment and acknowledge that they’ve done something very few people can do. Too often, minority serving programs are framed as handouts, freebees, or unearned gifts, when they are exceptionally selective, challenging, and demanding opportunities to develop critical professional skills.
To help these students resist the messaging that minimizes their accomplishments, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion makes a point to celebrate and highlight the importance of their work and the contributions these students make to our research infrastructure. Many of these students will go on to enroll in our PhD programs, and the projects they start often result in impactful publications years down the road. So, we celebrate our summer pathway programs each year and offer our sincerest gratitude to their contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion in science.