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Undergraduate Remote Summer Research Program

Miami Project Summer Research Program
Undergraduate Remote Summer Research Program

Typically, The Miami Project is buzzing with activity during the summer, as young trainees bring fresh excitement to our laboratories. Each summer, these trainees contribute to our scientific mission, while developing their neuroscience knowledge and laboratory skills. For many, this experience helps guide the direction of their education and, ultimately, future careers in neuroscience. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc around the world, we have been forced to rethink all aspects of our research and training efforts, including how we provide impactful development opportunities to our trainees.

This summer, The Miami Project is hosting a fully remote summer program for undergraduate students, with the goal of strengthening their interest in neurotrauma research. The 8-week program is currently underway with 54 students who participate in “live” Zoom sessions, which include lectures from faculty, discussions with scientists, and career development sessions. The focus area shifts each week to encompass the breadth of research being done at The Miami Project.

Although there are challenges associated with hosting so many students remotely, The Miami Project’s Education Coordinator, Maria Chagoyen, was prepared to handle the transition smoothly. “Without Maria’s experience, organization, and enthusiasm for teaching, this quick shift to distance learning never would have been possible. We have students joining us from across the country, from Maine to California, and she ensures they all are able to connect and have opportunities to interact 1:1 with our scientists,” said Katie Gant, Ph.D., Director of Education and Outreach, The Miami Project, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery.

Despite the inherent limitations of remote interactions, Dr. Gant sees one big advantage of the distance learning model. “In the past, we were only able to host about 12 undergraduate students in our laboratories, despite receiving more than 100 applications each cycle. This summer, we can accommodate dozens more, thanks to the accessibility of these remote platforms. We do, however, have to be more creative with our teaching methods, to encourage engagement and discussion despite our physical distance. We are already thinking about ways to reach even more trainees in the future.”

One of the program participants, Robert Cotter, a recent graduate of Florida State University, says, “Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, I had planned to participate in a research internship program. After it was canceled, I was lucky to find The Miami Project’s remote program, as it provided me a way to pursue my interest in spinal cord injury. The program has given me an opportunity to learn more about research and to interact with field-leading investigators at The Miami Project, who have helped me to hone my research interests. It has been a meaningful experience, despite the growing pandemic. Moving forward, I will incorporate the knowledge and experience I’ve had through this program, as I pursue a career in physiatry.”

A primary goal of the Miami Project since its inception has been to increase the number of scientists focusing on neurotrauma research. From its founding in 1985, the Miami Project has trained countless students in our laboratories, who have gone on to advance the field of neuroscience. Although less trainees are buzzing through our building this summer, Dr. Gant remains optimistic. “It’s encouraging to see how many young people want to improve the lives of others – in particular, those living with spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and other neurological disorders. We want this summer program to serve as a springboard, to give them the tools they need to pursue careers in neuroscience. The Miami Project is proud to be part of the development of these future scientists, who will move us closer toward our ultimate goal of curing paralysis.”