It’s time to get SMART about summer school

Each summer, the halls of Baylor College of Medicine are filled with undergraduate students from around the country who are taking advantage of an opportunity to get hands-on research experience. The Summer Medical and Research Training (SMART) Program recruits about 80 students from undergraduate institutions around the country for nine weeks of paid biomedical related research. Many have chosen to come back to BCM for their graduate training.

Bonnie Youmans

Bonnie Youmans

Take Bonnie Youmans, for example. Originally from Wyoming, Youmans was a McNair Scholar at her undergraduate institution. While at a graduate school recruitment fair held during a McNair conference, she learned about Baylor and the SMART program. Although Baylor had never been on her radar, the recruiter convinced her to apply to the summer program. She was placed in the molecular virology and microbiology program and describes her experience that summer as “amazing.”

“It felt like an actual rotation where I got to do hands-on work, not just watch someone else do it,” she said. “It gave me the confidence that I could do this.”

Youmans also enjoyed the daily lunchtime seminars where researchers from various departments discussed their work, as well as the GRE preparation courses provided to the students in the program, who stay in dormitories at Rice University.

After that summer, she knew that the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine is where she wanted to be for her graduate training.

“Why would I want to go anywhere else?” she said. “The SMART program made me realize that the training at BCM is unlike any other program. Everyone knows one another in the department, which is not true for other programs. It gave me a good idea of the environment I would be coming into.”

Her graduate work in virology and microbiology at Baylor was related to the Human Microbiome Project. She worked to identify bacteria that live in the gut and how they’re affected by disease, specifically traveler’s diarrhea. Youmans’s lab was next door to the lab where she did her research in the SMART program.

“The program made BCM go from not even being on my radar to being my top choice for graduate school,” she said.

Youmans won a national fellowship that helped fund her Ph.D. education and also recieved a $3,000 a year Dean’s Award at Baylor.

Her advice to undergraduates who are considering a career in scientific research is to start early – try to get in two internships before applying to graduate school.

“Don’t be afraid to do it,” she said. “It will benefit you more than you know.”

Today Youmans is a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Tim Johnson’s lab at the University of Minnesota. She is applying her experience in human microbiome research to a condition in turkeys known as Light Turkey Syndrome.

“We hypothesize that this syndrome is related to the development of the gut microbiome in turkeys. We’re working to modulate the commensal organisms to increase growth performance, or bird weight, in commercial flocks,” she said.

For more information about the SMART program and to apply, visit the SMART program website.

– By Dipali Pathak
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