Thirteen undergraduates are at work at Idaho State University this summer completing scientific research – the kind that has the potential to show up in peer-reviewed journals with the students listed as co-authors – by participating in the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.
The INBRE Fellowship program, involving undergraduate science students from universities throughout Idaho, is not an educational or training initiative. In a sense, the INBRE program is a minor league for developing scientists who will be asking important questions and pursuing tangible results, all for the sake of advancing humankind’s quest for knowledge and contributing to our understanding of human diseases and disorders.
"INBRE is a research program," said Michael Thomas, ISU INBRE director and associate professor of biological sciences. "These students are not here playing kickball. They're playing hardball, doing real science, with the expectation that the research they are doing at Idaho State University will be published in scientific journals."
INBRE is a statewide program funded by the National Institutes of Health to the tune of $16.5 million over a five-year period. Its mission is to increase Idaho's competitiveness for federal biomedical research funding. Part of reaching that vision is developing new scientists. This summer, INBRE, which is administrated through the University of Idaho, is sponsoring about 35 undergraduate students from Idaho's universities who are serving researchers at ISU, UI, Boise State University and Boise Veterans Administration Medical Center.
The 13 ISU INBRE summer researchers were selected from a pool of about 50 applicants and each have been assigned a mentor to work with in a variety of ISU departments, including biological sciences, biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, psychology and chemistry. They work at least 40 hours a week for 10 weeks and will then attend the Idaho INBRE Conference in Moscow Aug. 6-8 and present their research findings.
"It will be a great summer for the students," said Erin Rasmussen, ISU INBRE assistant director and associate professor of psychology. "They'll be exploring fundamental research processes under the guidance of mentors, keeping their eyes on the prize, which is scientific discovery."
One of this year's ISU INBRE participants, Steven Boomhower, a senior psychology major from Twin Falls, epitomizes the goals of the INBRE.
Boomhower works in Rasmussen’s laboratory with rats on a study examining a facet of food choice and its role in obesity.
"We're looking at how high-calorie diets affect preference for impulsive food choices," Boomhower said at a recent INBRE orientation at ISU.
Continuing his work from last summer with his mentor Rasmussen, Boomhower is finishing a manuscript on an independent research study that he conducted. He and Rasmussen will submit the manuscript it to a scientific journal on which he will be listed as a first author. It is rare for an undergraduate to be listed as a first author, simply because they do not have the scientific writing experience. Boomhower is a rare exception.
Most INBRE students, however, will be working on projects for which they’ll be listed as co-authors or contributors, and will be working on a particular aspect of a larger enterprise. Boomhower, with a year of experience under his belt, extolled the benefits of the program to his cohorts.
"The biggest benefit to me was the chance to work with one of the INBRE professors in a field of research I want to go into," he said. "It's unbelievable to me that I've had the opportunity to work on these projects. Three years ago (as a freshman) I would have never imagined this. I feel lucky I got the chance to work in Dr. Rasmussen's lab."
New ISU INBRE participants expressed their excitement about the summer's possibilities.
Cynthia Tang, a chemistry major from Boise who is a student at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, touted some of the benefits of the program.
"This is a chance for me to grow a little bit away from home," Tang said. "I'm from a smaller school that does not have big research facilities. This is a great experience for me to work in a larger university with bigger departments, more equipment and more research funding."
At a recent INBRE orientation at ISU where INBRE undergraduate researchers were introduced to their mentors, Rex Force, clinical research director for ISU the Pocatello Family Medicine Clinical Research Center, gave a presentation about the national clinical trial on diabetes his clinic has participated in for more than 10 years. His story on the clinical trials featured many plot twists and turns, and a surprise ending worthy of suspense novel.
At the end of his presentation Force shared the following observation.
"Your work always leads to more questions than answers, but it is fun to be on the cutting edge of knowledge," Force said. "And all of you get to be on the cutting edge this summer."
More information on Idaho INBRE is available at http://inbre.uidaho.edu/ and http://inbre.isu.edu.