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UD-Fox Chase summer fellows Elizabeth Smith (left) and Darline
Murat learn how to check the accuracy of micropipettes during the first
day of the summer “boot camp,” focused on basic lab skills.
From studying a mutation related to the spread of colorectal cancer,
to identifying biomarkers that might predict the outcome in cases of
breast cancer, to developing a zebrafish model that could help find
treatments for melanoma, four University of Delaware undergraduates
spent their summer immersed in the work of a cancer research
Selected as 2021 UD-Fox Chase Cancer Center Summer Fellows, the
students spent 10 weeks at the Philadelphia center, working in labs with
research mentors and experiencing other aspects of possible careers in
science or medicine. The program, which began in 2017 through a
collaboration of the UD College of Arts and Sciences’ NUCLEUS
academic-support program and Fox Chase Cancer Center in Northeast
Philadelphia, provides participants with a stipend, housing and numerous
hands-on experiences and skill-building opportunities.
The goal of the summer program is to increase interest and retention
of undergraduates, especially those from groups that are
underrepresented in the medical research field, in STEM majors and
careers, said Amanda Purdy, director of academic affairs at Fox Chase.
“Of course we’re looking for students who are interested in research,
but we also want to work with students who are excited about science in
general and are interested in learning how to talk about science in
ways that the public can understand and engage with,” she said.
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Each summer fellow is assigned to a
research lab and a project. The research team consists of scientists who
have specified their interest in serving as mentors, and the students
spend most of their time conducting hands-on work in the lab.
The fellows also meet regularly as a group with Purdy and others to
learn how to present research findings and prepare for careers in
science and medicine, while also learning about how research is funded
and developing strategies to network effectively with other
professionals. This year, the summer began with a two-day “boot camp” in
which the four students learned or reviewed basic laboratory skills,
allowing them to hit the ground running when they first arrived in their
labs. The program’s final activity was a session in which the fellows
presented their work in an August research symposium.
“I have always been interested in research and was curious about
cancer research specifically,” said Darline Murat, who graduated from UD
this year but was able to be a 2021 summer fellow, after the COVID-19
pandemic forced the cancellation of the program last year. “I found
learning various lab techniques to be the most beneficial thing about
Murat said she found “enthusiastic researchers” and “students who
were all passionate about their research,” as well as mentors who were
always eager to help. She learned that she liked working in the lab, but
she’s also considering a career in genetic counseling.
Elizabeth Smith, a junior at UD who has
planned on a career in biochemistry research for several years, found
that the summer experience reinforced her interest.
“I greatly enjoyed the work I did, and I learned so much about data
analysis, lab procedures, professional networking and communicating
scientific findings to the public,” she said. “I had a great time, and I
know that I want to go into this field in the future.”
For UD senior Joel Lobban, who is looking at graduate programs in the
medical field, the fellowship allowed him to develop lab techniques and
academic skills related to research, in addition to making connections
he expects to continue.
“I took so much away from the program and met so many great people,”
he said, praising the “caring and engaging team” at Fox Chase. “Everyone
genuinely wants to see you succeed.”
Community building is an intentional
part of the fellowship program, Purdy said. The students live close to
one another for the summer and take part in workshops and social
activities with staff members—including herself; Glenn Rall, professor
and chief academic officer; and Alyssa Leystra, education
coordinator—during their time away from the lab. They are also
encouraged to discuss medical careers other than research with Fox Chase
professionals and to shadow clinicians or others if they choose to do
“This is a comprehensive cancer hospital, so the students see
patients and clinicians as they walk around,” Purdy said. “They can see
those kinds of personal interactions and how all the pieces [of research
and treatment] fit together.”
Student Joy Orume said she applied to the fellowship to help her
learn her strengths and passions as she made career decisions. The
experience made her realize she didn’t want to pursue a doctorate but is
more interested in a master’s degree in bioinformatics.
“Do it!” she said she advises other students about the summer
fellowship. “I honestly think anyone would benefit from the experience I
To Lobban, the experience also provided “many professional and soft
skills that I can carry with me wherever I go,” saying that he “became a
better presenter, problem solver, liaison, researcher, writer,
networker [and] friend.”
With the four new alumni, 16 UD students have completed a summer fellowship.
The University of Delaware-Fox Chase Cancer Center Summer Fellowship
will continue next summer, with plans for interested students to have
the opportunity to visit the cancer center as a group this fall, tour
the labs and meet with staff and other students there.
Those who decide to apply for the program will submit applications,
which will be reviewed by a committee that includes some former fellows.
Organizers hope the number of fellows may be able to expand beginning
in summer 2023.
“This program is an amazing opportunity for students, especially
those that are considering careers in research or medicine,” said Carly
Meluney, NUCLEUS program manager. “We strongly encourage students who
are interested in STEM to explore this.”
The program is funded by the University, Fox Chase and UD alumnus
Thomas Hofmann, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the Lerner College
in 1973 and who has generously supported NUCLEUS, allowing students to
pursue a variety of undergraduate research and internship opportunities.
NUCLEUS is an undergraduate support program open to all College of
Arts and Sciences students. The program fosters academic excellence by
providing students with comprehensive academic services, connections,
opportunities and information.
Students interested in learning more about the summer fellowship program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Ann Manser;
Photos courtesy of Fox Chase Cancer Center
Published October 05, 2021