Students accelerate their research skills with new summer training camp
This summer, 12 Wesleyan students who identify as first generation / low income learned about research methods and proposal writing through the first McNair Bootcamp.
Held in conjunction with Wesleyan’s Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program and the Wesleyan Mathematics and Science Program (WesMaSS), the bootcamp provided a solution for summer research students who were unable to transition from their in-person research projects to remote research during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You certainly don’t want students doing organic chemistry in their home kitchens,” said bootcamp co-founder Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry. “Many types of research cannot be translated into ‘virtual research’ in response to the campus closure, so we wanted to make sure that these students didn’t have a ‘summer lost’ in their growth as researchers. “
Taylor and Ronnie Hendrix, associate director of the McNair program, focused their new program on teaching students how to conduct independent research. Students learned to think through, to build hypotheses, to work collaboratively with their peers, to write a research proposal based on the application criteria of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, peer review a research proposal, modify and improve a research proposal, and finally develop and present a research poster.
All of the bootcamp participants conducted studies on a COVID-19 topic related to their research interests, ranging from computer science to psychology. Topics explored included “Mesenchymal Stem Cells as a Therapeutic Treatment for COVID-19 Pneumonia”, “Unmasking Racial Bias in Facebook Ads Related to COVID-19”, “Increased Inequalities: How Racial Disparities Connect to Covid- 19 “,” Examen of Population Density Exacerbated Anxiety and Depression during the COVID-19 Pandemic “,” Investigation of IFN-mediated Immune Response in the Development of Antiviral Therapy for COVID-19 “, and more.
McNair scholar Mohammed Ullah ’22 shared his hypothetical project proposal ‘One drug for all RNA viruses’, which would explore the possibility of creating a universal and versatile drug that will enhance the inhibition of several RNA viruses (including COVID -19) by targeting multiple proteins / biological pathways simultaneously. Ullah suggests investigating the drugs Hydroxychloroquine / Chloroquine, Interferon α / b, Lopinavir / Ritonavir, Ribavirin, and Remdesivir to determine if there are homologues between SARS-CoV-2 and the viruses that each of the four therapeutic agent treatments were initially intended to process. He and other bootcampers showcased their work at the 2020 Summer Research Poster Session, held online.
“I have always been interested in drug design and presented this idea, and Professor Taylor walked me through the process, helping me learn to read scientific literature, understand certain concepts and constantly revising my draft proposals, ”Ullah said. “It’s an idea that I look forward to developing when pursuing a PhD or working in industry. “
Prior to taking the bootcamp, psychology major SeArah Smith ’21 found the research process intimidating.
“Unfortunately, I have never had a formal tutorial on the basics of creating a research project in the field of psychology; However, with the help I received from my mentor and other interns, I am now very confident in my ability to create a thoughtful research project, ”said Smith. “With the help of our research methods courses, small group meetings and workshops, I was able to reestablish my relationship with research. Now I am very happy to use this new information when I conduct my own psychology research at Wesleyan and graduate school.
Bootcamp participants also helped with participatory research through the zooniverse.org platform, so that they could participate in the observation, categorization and recording of data.
“We were definitely making lemonade from our COVID-19 lemons,” Taylor said. “The projects the students did were amazing and touched on some really interesting aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on all kinds of things. Even seasoned researchers said it helped them learn research fundamentals they never explicitly taught in their labs. “