The SCGB Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program aims to spark and sustain interest in systems and computational neuroscience among undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds that are underrepresented in neuroscience research.
SURF provides funds for undergraduate research assistants to work in SCGB-funded laboratories during the academic year under the mentorship of postdoctoral fellows or doctoral students. By supporting hands-on experience at the college level, the program targets a turning point in scientific training — studies show that people from underrepresented groups are disproportionately likely to be diverted from careers in biomedical research at this stage in their education (Meyers et al., 2018).
With an annual budget of $350,000, the program provides funds for SURF fellows to work in a neuroscience laboratory during the academic year for 10 hours per week over 30 weeks, guided by a SURF mentor. In addition to financial support, the SCGB provides program certificates to fellows, facilitates meetings among fellows and mentors, and arranges an end-of-year research symposium for fellows to share their work.
“We are excited to provide these training opportunities and support talented people in the field,” says Alyssa Picchini Schaffer, senior scientist and administrative director for the SCGB. “Ultimately, science will benefit from increasing diverse perspectives and ideas.”
The inaugural class of 29 SURF fellows, who hail from Boston, Chicago, New York City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and the Bay Area, as well as London and Vienna, will work with 30 SURF mentors.
Joaquín Rapela, a researcher at University College London who will serve as a SURF mentor with collaborator Mitra Javadzadeh No, recalls how profoundly an undergraduate internship in computer science shaped his career. “Now I am working in a top-notch computational and experimental neuroscience research center, where I work on computational subjects and collaborate with a wonderful experimental scientist, Mitra,” Rapela says. “We trust that we can offer an undergraduate student a research experience that could significantly shape his or her life.”
Shadé Eleazer, an undergrad at Marymount Manhattan College, will study fruit fly behavior with Tom Hindmarsh Sten in Vanessa Ruta’s lab at Rockefeller University. “I am interested in going to graduate school, so this opportunity will not only make me a stronger applicant but also expose me to the type of lab work and tasks that will be required of me in the future,” Eleazer says. “I am thrilled to begin my work with my mentor and the rest of the lab members!”