BIT SURE Provides Summer Research Opportunities for NC State Students

Each year, the Biotechnology (BIT) Program hosts the BIT Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (BIT SURE) program, which allows NC State students to work one-on-one with instructors from the BIT Program on a novel research project. This year, students could work with Dr. Dums on viral ecology, Dr. Srougi on cancer biology, Dr. Noel on developmental biology, Dr. Hasley on genetics, Dr. Sjogren on plant genomics, Dr. Chen on DNA repair, or Dr. Goller on microbiology, as outlined on the program website. The BIT SURE program is a ten-week, paid, part-time experience that will feature both in-person and hybrid research and professional development opportunities this summer. It’s a great way for students to immerse themselves in a scientific research environment and evaluate whether they’d like to pursue it further.

Before, I knew that research was out there, but I had never really thought about what it really looked like.

Rahul Sharma, BIT SURE 2021

For Rahul Sharma, a junior who worked with Dr. Goller last summer, the BIT SURE program was the perfect opportunity to explore the world of research. “Before, I knew that research was out there, but I had never really thought about what it really looked like,” he said. “I thought it was just a scientist tinkering with pipettes for eight hours a day and then going home, and that was kind of boring to me.” But the BIT SURE program allowed him to see the different steps involved in a research project, not just through his own work, but also that of the other students and their mentors. Rahul had worked with Dr. Goller the previous school year on a related literature search on Delftia bacteria, which then became a more specific project on Delftia tsuruhatensis, a microbe that could be used to degrade environmental toxins. Working with the same mentor for both the school year and the summer allowed him to really follow a project as it developed, but meeting the other students and their mentors also allowed him to see the scope of possibilities within biotechnology research.

Sidra Dorofi, a senior who worked with Dr. Chen last summer, was able to build her confidence in her wet lab skills after spending nearly half of her undergraduate career in online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Some of the important bench lab parts of my education have been taken away, but [the BIT SURE program] made me feel a lot more competent at a lot of basic lab skills, like pipetting,” she said. Sidra worked on a ChIP-based project that focused on the single-stranded binding protein (SSB). She has been able to continue working on her project into this school year, which has allowed her to continue developing and building upon those skills.

Even though I was the only one working on my project, I was never really alone.

Rahul Sharma, BIT SURE 2021

Though each student works with a different mentor and keeps their own schedule, they all participate in a journal club each week, in which they discuss their work and related recent research. “We were able to exchange a lot of skills and advice,” Rahul said, “even though I was the only one working on my project, I was never really alone.” Though students may be doing drastically different types of work from day to day, from online bioinformatics to collecting field samples, they still have a lot of overlapping experiences to share, and their research mentors are also present to provide help and feedback. Participants also attend professional development workshops throughout the summer, alongside other research programs on campus, that are designed to introduce them to and prepare them for future research careers. 

According to Rahul and Sidra, the most important aspects of ensuring that the summer will be a good experience are choosing research and a mentor that are a good fit. “Selecting a project you’re interested in and a mentor you want to work with will be make or break for the summer,” Sidra said, because you’ll be spending a lot of time working with that person over the course of the ten week program. All of the mentors have very different types of projects available for students and have different mentoring styles, so applicants should be sure to read about each one carefully before making a decision. For example, Dr. Sjogren and Dr. Hasley’s students do both fieldwork and bioinformatics, while Dr. Srougi and Dr. Noel’s students have more traditional wet lab experiences. Rahul recommended reaching out to potential mentors to make sure they would be a good fit. Working with a mentor you mesh well with is at least as important as working on a project you’re passionate about.

Rahul also thinks it’s important to make the most of the experience once students start in the summer. “I started off a bit slow,” he said, “because I was just trying to get used to the environment, but I wish I spent more time just jumping in from the start.” One thing that he noticed as his project progressed was that there were so many different directions he could take it in that it started to feel like he just didn’t have enough time. A lot of research projects take multiple years, if not decades, to complete, so summer students have to pack one small aspect of that into a few months. “I think the biggest thing is to maximize your time and make sure you’re doing as much as possible with the time you have.”

Your mentor is there to help you, and there are other people in the lab who can help, too.

Sidra Dorofi, BIT SURE 2021

But on the other hand, Sidra said that it’s important to remember that it’s a learning experience, and that it’s okay if they’re not immediately great at all of the techniques they’ll be performing. “We’ve been in lockdown for COVID for so long that most peoples’ lab skills are probably rusty, even if they have done it before… Your mentor is there to help you, and there are other people in the lab who can help, too,” she said. Ultimately, the experience is designed to allow students to see what a research environment is like and to hone the skills they use there. Applications for the 2022 BIT SURE program, including the application form, statement of purpose, and two recommendation letters, are due Friday, February 4th. Interested students should check out the website for more information on the program, the mentors, and research projects available, and how to apply. We hope to see you this summer!