CLIMB UP Pairs Aspiring Scientists with Noted UB Researchers

CLIMB UP Pairs Aspiring Scientists with Noted UB Researchers

Published July 19, 2011

College students from across the country are at UB this summer to conduct biosciences research with top faculty mentors.

“The reason we created this program is to help nurture these very talented students so that they will succeed and not give up.”
Margarita Dubocovich, PhD
Chair, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and founding director of CLIMB UP

The eight-week program mentors undergraduates, many of whom are minorities, and lays the groundwork for graduate school, especially in fields related to drug discovery and translational science.

“The reason we created this program is to help nurture these very talented students so that they will succeed and not give up,” says Margarita Dubocovich, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and founding director of CLIMB UP.

Program Pays All Expenses and Provides Mentors

This summer's 16 participants were chosen from a highly competitive pool of 65 applicants. Some are from Buffalo; others, from as far away as Mississippi and Puerto Rico.

The McNair Scholars Program at UB and other national organizations pay all of their expenses, including room and board.

Each CLIMB UP student works on a specific research project with a faculty member. At the end of the program, they present their work.

Participating faculty come from science departments across UB.

“We like to think of the program as a catalyst," says Rajendram V. Rajnarayanan, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology and assistant director of UB’s CLIMB UP.

"In one summer, we expect a big transformation in these students.”

Students Get Hands-On Experience in Top Labs

Thanks to CLIMB UP, Brittani Franklin is working for the first time in a neuroscience laboratory. She's studying the differentiation of neuronal stem cells with Fraser Sim, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology.

“This is a challenge that I will learn from,” says Franklin, who attends Xavier University in New Orleans. “You never know what doors will open from having this experience.”

UB senior Tatiana Shaurova agrees.

“This is a very productive way to spend a summer,” she says.

If not for CLIMB UP, Shaurova would be working at any summer job she could find.

Instead, she's working with Rajnarayanan, studying derivatives of the artificial sweetener aspartame.

Class Teaches Research Techniques

During the first week of CLIMB UP, students spend each morning in a three-hour “Introduction to Lab Skills” class, a crash course in a broad spectrum of techniques from pipetting and autoclaving to measuring liquids, cell counting and gel preparation.

During weekly breakfast meetings, social gatherings and field trips to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Niagara Falls, they interact with their peers, UB graduate students and faculty, who also give workshops on career options.

Program Sets Stage for Graduate School

CLIMB UP is part of CLIMB, an umbrella program Dubocovich founded at UB that provides the same type of mentoring for biosciences students at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels.

The program is based on a similar effort she started while a faculty member at Northwestern University.

“I was inspired to create CLIMB when I started seeing students, many of them minorities, going into PhD programs in an environment where they had no training and no mentoring,” she says.

“It was sink or swim. These were talented students who had made it to graduate school. But they were away from their families and friends, some of them for the first time, and they found it very difficult to adapt to a new city, new friends and graduate school in general. Some of them had to work in order to pay for school.

“By the end of the first quarter, many would be getting Cs and Ds, and they would be asked to leave.”

Participants Encouraged to Explore Possibilities

CLIMB UP helps enthusiastic student researchers thrive at every level so they can continue progressing, Dubocovich says.

“I don’t want people to quit. I wanted to create a program where they can see what is possible—where they can advance through all the steps necessary in order to succeed.”

In addition to the McNair Scholars Program, funding for CLIMB UP comes from:

  • Zannoni Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow Awards (through the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics)
  • Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) programs at individual institutions
  • The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology-MARC Summer Research Opportunity Program