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Fast-tracking transfer students to research

May 20, 2010

A $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will provide more opportunities for students transferring from community college to UC Davis to get scientific research experience over the next four years. The grant was announced today (May 20).

The University of California is encouraging more students to transfer from community colleges, but it can be hard for those students interested in lab research to catch up on experience with their peers who entered UC Davis as freshmen, said Kenneth Burtis, dean of the College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis and principal investigator on the grant.

"For the most part, they don’t make it into a lab until their senior year," Burtis said, "so we need to help them access laboratory research experiences before they even arrive to campus."

With the support of the new grant, Burtis and his colleagues are developing the FASTRAC (FAcilitating STudent Research Access) program to address this issue.

The program will identify up to 20 community college students each year who are interested in working in a research lab after they transfer to UC Davis. During winter break of their last year in community college, the students will spend two weeks at UC Davis to meet faculty and other students, receive mentoring, and get an intensive lab experience.

About half the students from FASTRAC will be selected to work in biology labs for 10 weeks in the summer and participate in the college's Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program, which provides activities with peers who are also doing research.

Burtis is optimistic they will continue working in those labs after the summer ends, and continue until they graduate.

Burtis thinks the project could have a big impact on community college transfer students who aspire to do scientific research. Students who do research for a full two years have more opportunities to co-author papers, present their work at scientific conferences, and get strong letters of recommendation for applying to graduate school -- all steps on the path to becoming a working scientist, he said.

The grant extends initiatives begun with a 2006 award by the institute to support the UC Davis Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program, which has helped disadvantaged and underrepresented students gain research experience since 1988. It is among $79 million in grants to strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education nationwide announced today by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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