Investment in Undergraduates
“I got to be there and see it in person,” says Melanie Perez, a senior at Florida International University, describing her experience in the 2022 Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) Summer Research Program at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
The nine-week program for college undergraduates interested in the MD/PhD career track is an extension of VUSM’s MSTP.
Perez was one of 32 college students who participated in four different research programs for aspiring physician-scientists hosted this summer by VUSM. They conducted research projects, received mentoring, and some of them, including Perez, shadowed clinicians as they provided patient care.
“Undergraduate research programs are critical for feeding scientists and physician-scientists into career paths and diversifying the future physician-scientist workforce,” said MSTP director Christopher Williams, MD, PhD.
Perez worked in the lab of Heather Pua, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology who in 2019 received a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award for her research on a new form of cell signaling involving ribonucleic acids (RNAs) in allergic airway inflammation.
In August the students presented their research projects in oral talks and poster sessions at an end-of-summer research symposium.
Perez, who presented a poster summarizing her research, said she thoroughly enjoyed her research experience, and has become even more convinced that the physician-scientist path is right for her. “I just want to be able to contribute, to solve a piece of the puzzle,” she said.
Jailyn Smith, a participant in the 2021 MSTP Summer Research Program, returned to VUSM this fall as a first-year medical student in the MSTP.
Last summer, as a rising senior at North Carolina Central University in Durham, she worked in the laboratory of Rachelle Johnson, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine, whose research focuses on metastatic breast cancer and tumor cell dormancy in the bone.
“I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to come back,” Smith said. After graduating early from college, she joined the Johnson lab as a research assistant for a semester before starting medical school.
Smith said she chose to come to Vanderbilt for medical school because of its highly collaborative culture.
“I knew … it would allow me to fulfill my dream of becoming a physician-scientist, while also emphasizing my mental and emotional health,” she said. “I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be part of the MSTP Summer Research Program.”