[MUSIC PLAYING] I was in the very first research start class in 2015 here at the University of Chicago, and since then, I've acted as a peer mentor for students in the program each summer.
As the hub of a group of local universities on the cutting edge of cancer research, the University of Chicago takes the initiative to expose the particular strengths of each institution's cancer research programs to gifted local students.

We started with maybe seven or eight students and had a couple of different universities we wanted to include. So it was University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Illinois Chicago, and then eventually brought in Northwestern.

ResearcHStart is a cancer research training program that's designed for high school students. It's a one year program, so students come to us for eight weeks in the summer. And the main component and most important component of this program is this intensive research experience.

Being able to actually experience what research is like, have the day-to-day work of being in a lab, learning how to interact with your lab mates, how to present your work made it really clear that I was on the right track and that this is what I wanted to do.

We try to complement that research experience with a number of career development and skill building, workshops, and opportunities.

The one non-lab skill I took away the most from was the ability to network. It teaches you how to meet with professionals, how to connect with them, how to email a professor. If I really like a professor's work, how do I let them know that? How do I let them know I'm may be interested in working for them?

Increasingly as ResearcHStart has developed, we've been trying to educate our communities about the advances in cancer research that are going on across our four institutions, and using specific examples from the research that they've been doing in the summer.

The return is in the heart. And when you see these kids go through this and talk about it, their experience, and talk to their families, to me that that's what it's all about.

To have this experience, where she actually spent eight weeks, 40 hours every week in research, really ignited a passion in her, which she has now continued, and I don't know that she would have known that was the right path for her until she actually was able to have this kind of experience.

So to see them go through and tackle problem after problem and overcome hurdle after hurdle as they learn new things and learn to develop confidence in themselves is really amazing. So to hear them speak about their work and about research at the beginning of the program and at the end of the program is like night and day. It's remarkable to see how sophisticated and confident they become in just a few weeks.

Before ResearcHStart, the biggest issue I had was like a math problem, and there's always a simple answer to that. Whereas in research and in life, there's not always a simple answer to the problem that you're addressing. Your research is going to take you in paths that you don't expect, and so ResearcHStart really taught me how to deal with the challenges that are thrown at you in research, and how to address them, and how to move past them, how to develop more questions from almost nothing.


ResearcHStart is a multi-institutional program welcoming high school students from the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign areas to explore exciting careers in cancer research. Participants work full time in the laboratories of established cancer researchers, gaining hands-on experience in areas at the forefront of the field: cancer immunology, bioengineering, experimental cancer therapeutics, cancer disparities and more.

Rigorous research training is complemented by career development and skill-building workshops, a cancer-based faculty lecture series, and a network of faculty and peer mentors dedicated to students’ success. The program culminates in a research symposium for family, friends and members of the scientific community. Participants receive a taxable stipend of $3,000.

About researcHStart

  • Introduce students to cutting-edge cancer research and promote career opportunities in the field
  • Help students gain knowledge in biophysics, biochemistry, immunology and pharmacology
  • Help students gain an understanding of cancer and its impact on Illinois residents
  • Hands-on experience in a cutting-edge laboratory or research group
  • Targeted career development and skill-building workshops
  • Ongoing mentorship from network of university faculty, research professionals, program personnel and peers
  • Exposure to Illinois’s top universities
  • Taxable stipend of $3,000
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Northwestern University
  • Rush University

ResearcHStart generally runs from the second full week of June through the first week of August. Specific dates are announced with the release of application materials each fall.

Please note that accommodations will be made for students whose last days of school overlap with the first days of the researcHStart program.

  • High school junior or senior at time of application
  • At least 16 years of age at start of program
  • Strong interest in a career in scientific research or medicine
  • Ability to commit to 8 full weeks of programming, 40 hours/week

Admission to researcHStart is highly competitive. No more than 30 participants will be selected, based on their demonstrated passion for science, interest in careers in biomedicine, and capacity to perform in a professional research setting.

Applications for summer 2023 are due by 11:59 p.m. CST on Monday, January 23, 2023.

To apply:

  • View the recording, below, of the summer research program info session from December 15, or view the presentation slides.
  • Review the applicant information packet, accessible here.
  • Submit the online application form, accessible here.
  • Identify two individuals (at least one teacher) to complete the online applicant recommendation form, accessible here. An instruction sheet for recommenders is available here.
  • Applicants who advance to the second round: Complete an in-person interview with the program leadership team at the respective site, scheduled in February.  
Conflict of Interest Policy: The selection of applicants is managed by the site leadership teams. Immediate family members of the site leadership teams or of the researcHStart Advisory Committee are ineligible for the program. Immediate family members of faculty from a given site are ineligible for that site. All applications will be subject to the Conflict of Interest Policy.
Take a little bit of time today to share with you opportunities to explore cancer research and cancer research training if you are a high school student or a college student, through the University of Chicago but also through our collaborators at other institutions across Illinois. So I am joined today by my partners in crime and my colleagues at UChicago. Basia Galinski, who is the scientific liaison for the Cancer Center, and Michelle Domecki, who is our education coordinator. And we were also able to rope poor Monica in as our student representative.

So you have the opportunity to not only hear from our side of things about how the program works, how the application process works, but I think most importantly, from the perspective of a student who's actually completed the program. And she can talk about what that experience was like and advice that she has for you as an applicant.

So I'm going to go ahead and get started. I wanted to first just clarify what programs we're talking about and what are some of the similarities and differences between them. University of Chicago has four pathway programs for trainees at the high school and undergraduate level. Other institutions that are involved through our research start program have additional programs for you.

So at the end of this presentation, I'll actually give you some contact information so you can explore those opportunities as well. But today we're going to focus on Chicago eyes on cancer and research start. Both of which are run through the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center with research start having opportunities at other institutions.

So both of these programs offer immersive research experience, hands-on research experience this summer on campus. We're optimistic that we'll be able to have everybody in person on campus again after a couple of disrupted years through COVID. Both of these programs offer opportunities for you to have your own personalized mentorship team to help you throughout the summer and then as you move forward in your career. We offer skill building and career development, community outreach and engagement through both programs, your friendly leadership team, which involves all of us for both programs, and also a stipend.

So the stipend is slightly different if you're a high school or college student. It is important for us to note that we do not provide additional support for housing or transportation beyond the stipend. So the stipend is meant to offset those costs to participating in the program and some other opportunity costs for you who are considering other opportunities over the summer.

So the differences between the programs that are important to keep in mind as we're going through the presentation. Chicago eyes on cancer is only at UChicago. So if you are involved in that program, you will be working exclusively with the UChicago team and you'll be working at our Hyde Park campus in South Chicago, South Side Chicago.

And then for research start, we have placements at UChicago. We coordinate the program through our Cancer Center. But we work with fantastic teams at UIC and Northwestern University, Rush University, and down in Urbana-Champaign at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

So if you're applying through that program, you have a choice. You get to rank which site you're considering. And we have some opportunities for students to interact across all of those sites. Chicago EYES on Cancer is the only program that accepts college training. So if you are a college student, this is the program for you. If you're a high school student, you have the opportunity to apply to both.

Chicago EYES on Cancer is a year round program. So you have the immersive research experience in the summer. And then you also have monthly academic year activities for that whole school year afterward. And research start is only for the summer period.

And then Chicago EYES on Cancer is also a two-year commitment. So you're with us for two consecutive summers for research experience. And then two years of academic year activities.

The one caveat there, that's why it had asterisks, is this is a grant-funded program for the National Cancer Institute. We have just submitted a grant to renew funding for Chicago EYES on Cancer. We have the next year of funding guaranteed.

So if you are enrolled in this program, we have a year of training guaranteed to you. That second year is contingent on us receiving our next round of grant funding. We are optimistic, but I just want it to be really forthcoming about that at the time of your application.

For both of these programs the purpose is to excite young people who are interested in science, technology, engineering and medicine about the broad range of career opportunities that are available to you in cancer research. We want to make sure that in addition to just getting you excited about them, that we're actually giving you some concrete knowledge, skills and the social networks that are going to help you move forward on career paths in biomedicine. So what opportunities are available to you and what do you need to be successful in providing the support to do that.

For the EYES program in particular, we've been given a mandate from the National Cancer Institute to increase diversity within biomedicine and cancer research and medicine. This is part of a broader effort to address cancer health inequities and cancer health disparities. So that's a particular focus of Chicago EYES on Cancer.

At the core of these programs is this immersive research experience. So for both of them, you'll be spending eight weeks, 35 to 40 hours a week, where you join a research team. We have researchers at all the institutions involved in these programs who are doing cancer research across the spectrum, using lots of different methodologies, focused on all different kinds of cancer. And we pair are each individual student goes into a separate research team. And they essentially have an internship or an apprenticeship for the whole summer.

You join that team, you take part in lab meetings, in journal clubs, anything else that's part of that lab community. And you are doing an individual project that's related to the work of that lab. So I'm going to have Basia tell us there are lots of different areas of cancer research. There's lots of different ways to of describe them or to create categories. This is just generally how we've come to think of them and I'm going to ask Basia to talk you through these so you have an idea of what they look like.

Yes all these research areas are independent but also integrated into cancer biology, cancer research. So we first we have molecular mechanisms of cancer, which aims to identify at the most basic molecular chemistry-based functions of signaling pathways relevant to cancer research targets that might be identified. A lot of very cellular and mechanistic technologies at this core of developing into cancer, cancer progression, cancer promotion.

Then we have clinical and experimental therapeutics. So these are understanding targets that might be beneficial for patients based on what has been known in the clinic, what has been drawn up through basic research experiments. And validating these new agents or repurposing agents for use in eventually patient populations. Then we have computational cancer biology, which through all the ways of molecular mechanisms like cancer and clinical therapeutics, you get a lot of data that you have.

And you need a way to really understand what all this data is representing. If it's a patient population. If it's a cohort, if it's response rates, and to really use computer technologies to assess the data and to make it available for other researchers as a platform for cancer research.

Then we have cancer imaging. So a lot of our diagnostic techniques in cancer rely on MRIs or CT scans and so we want to better. And automate a lot of these features. So that way, clinicians and patients can be diagnosed in a more rapid fashion and in more regulated fashion.

Then we have cancer bioengineering, which aims to introduce a lot of concepts, especially within the realm of immunology or vaccine production for cancers, to address this technologies and to introduce ways to adapt our own immune system to actually target cancer and therefore to eliminate cancer in the patient. Then we have cancer prevention and control. And cancer prevention really focuses on how do we target populations that are vulnerable to cancer, whether it is through lifestyle changes such as reaching out to patients that are smoking and try to get them to stop smoking or if it is through awareness of HPV vaccination within the community and increasing those rates.

So these are ways that we can prevent and actually reduce the burden that cancer persists in our current population. And then we have cancer disparities. It touches on a lot of these other research areas. Because it is a fact that we know in the clinic that a lot of different ethnic groups, specifically the Latinx population and the Black population, have different rates of treatment success, overall survival. And we want to understand why does that exist, and how can we eliminate those disparities within our communities. And make sure that our health care is equitable and accessible for patients of color.

And so all of these areas are unique, but they also converge to work together to provide novel technologies, novel treatment options and novel ways that we think about integrating our patients and medicine and the science behind it all.

Thank you, Basia. So your project will be kind of fit within one of these categories. But as Basia kind of explained, there's a lot of overlap between them, in connection between them. And then you'll also have the opportunity throughout the summer to hear from researchers and your colleagues who are doing work in other areas.

So you have a lot of exposure. And hopefully, have a better sense by the end of the summer of which of these are most interesting to you. And worth pursuing moving forward.

I mentioned mentorship teams. This includes your PI, your principal investigator, of the labs, kind of like the boss of the lab or the research group, the one who's really driving the overall idea for the research and leading the team. You'll have a potentially some research staff, full-time research staff, usually some trainees, other trainees at the post doctoral or graduate student level. Sometimes some other undergraduate high school students who are part of that lab.

They're available for you for your daily guidance and instruction, day-to-day in the lab. Outside of the program or outside of your research placement, you have the program team. So this includes peers, it also includes at least at the University of Chicago peer mentor.

So this is generally a UChicago undergraduate or graduate student who's assigned to you. They'll check in once a week. You can talk about your research, you can talk about applying to college. You can talk about your really any issue that's coming up for you that this peer mentor has had some recent experience with and is able to advise. And then of course, it includes your leadership team.

So our team at the University of Chicago team at the sites for the research start program at the individual sites are all available to you. So you have a lot of support over the course of this program journey.

So we mentioned to you, most of the time is going to be spent in the lab doing this hands-on research. But we also do a lot of supplemental programming. And this is going to be focused on non laboratory-based research skills. So maybe how to read a scientific paper or how to search scientific literature. How to present your scientific work. And also some career development skills.

So we give you a lot of opportunity to get more exposure or network for career exploration, giving you an opportunity to think about how you are communicating the skills and the experiences that you've gained through this program on an application for college or for graduate school or when you get to college or if you're already in college, how do you find your next research experience? This is a lot of the kind of information that we think that you should have and the skills that you should develop so that you can take your experience this summer and make something of it moving forward.

We think that community average engagement is really important. This is for two reasons. This is part of the mission of our Cancer Center, to make sure that the scientific work that we're doing at the University is impacting our communities in positive ways to improve health and wellness for all communities in our area. And nationally, globally, but also because we think it's a really important thing for our trainees to have in mind as they're considering careers as researchers and scientists and clinicians, that community engagement should be part of the work that you do. And we're hoping to give you some of the skills and the perspective that you need to do that work really well.

The actual projects that we have from year to year change depending on what the interests of our trainees are, but also what is available to us as a program. In the past we've done some series for Chicago Access Network Television where students describe their research for Chicago and audience, audiences of public television. We volunteered at the Museum of Science and Industry to engage even very young learners in some research, hands-on research experiments in thinking about careers in cancer in medicine.

We've done some work with Chicago Public Libraries. We've done work with local legislators. Advocacy groups work with American Cancer Society to think about how the work that we do as scientists and clinicians is impacting policy in a much broader level. Again, just all these different opportunities that we have to connect with our community to make sure that the research that we're doing is having a larger impact.

We have a symposium at the end of every summer. This is an amazing day. This is an opportunity for all of our students, no matter what program you're in, to present the work that you've done over the course of the summer. So everyone will present either a scientific poster or a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation. This is open to family members, to your lab members, other members of our scientific communities, funders of the program and other stakeholders.

We also have a keynote speaker. And we're careful to select someone who can talk to us about big picture thinking about the current state of the cancer field, the research field in cancer care. Thinking about what the future might look like and especially thinking about the role that our young people who are part of these programs might have in shaping that future. So this is a celebratory day, like I said, everyone presents, and it's really kind of a culmination of the programs.

For EYES trainees only, I mentioned that EYES is a year-round program. I just wanted to mention a couple of examples of our monthly academic year activities. You should expect that these would take about five to 10 hours a month to complete. You have one due every month. I will say there's a pretty good degree of flexibility in terms of your schedule and how you're going to complete those activities are sensitive to the fact that many of you, by the time you're back in the academic year, you're either in school away from Chicago or you're just really busy with your academic responsibilities.

So there's a lot of flexibility. But the goal with all of these is to make sure that you're continuing to build on the momentum that you have over the summer, that you're continuing to develop some of those non-laboratory research skills and also career skills. And also, you're staying really closely connected to our team because we're hoping to support you throughout the two years of the program. So just some examples.

We typically have a book club. We tend to focus on books that are either going to teach us more about ethics and biomedicine and give us some really good material to talk about some of those ethical issues as researchers and clinicians. Or maybe something more about the current state of cancer science. So the breakthrough is an example of that.

We have collaborators at institutions across the country who have similar programs to EYES, funded through the same grant from the National Cancer Institute. That's why that little, the cure and the Youth Enjoy Science banner is up there. We do collaborative events with them as well to connect you to your colleagues across the country.

We go to conferences. SACNAS is a society for advancing Chicanos and Native Americans in science. AACR is the massive global organization for cancer researchers. And we try to get our students to connect with those communities as well. And sometimes, we just do things because they're fun and interesting.

So this past weekend, one of our EYES alumni led us on a tour of the international museum of surgical science here in Chicago. Nitty gritty program dates for summer 2023. The research experience is June 12 through August 4th. Please keep in mind that this is a full-time program. These weeks go by quickly.

So to finish a whole project over the course of eight weeks is really challenging. To do it in less than that is almost impossible. So that's one of the reasons why we require students to actually participate for the full eight weeks. If you have a vacation planned, if you have college orientation in the last few weeks of the program, it'd be really difficult for you to actually complete it. So we do require that you're there for the full eight weeks.

For EYES only, the monthly academic year activities, as I mentioned, are variable. You have one due a month, but we're pretty flexible. And Basia has been amazing at working individually with trainees to make sure that those requirements are fulfilled. And then for summer 2024, these are tentative dates. We stick to the same schedule almost every summer. So you should plan on about June 10th through August 2nd. And like I said, that's also contingent on our grant funding.

Before I go to admissions, Masia and Michelle, did I miss anything? OK. Awesome. Application procedures so you should have found, I hope, on our web page, I think that's how you got to this recording. So you should find a web page, our applicant information packets. These have those dates, all requirements of the program on the first page. Second page has details about exactly what we're going to ask for in that online application.

So I would say you review that. Make sure that what we're going to ask for so that you can just cut and paste when you get to the actual online form. Those forms are due, those online application forms are due on January 23rd at midnight. You are required also in that day to arrange to have two recommendations submitted.

So also on our web page there are instructions for your recommenders. There's a separate form for them, there's a link on our web page for that. There's a handout that you can download to share with them with instructions. Both of those recommendations are also due through that form on January 23rd.

For second round applicants, we have in-person interviews with the program leadership on February 20 for UChicago applicants. So anyone who is applying to Chicago EYES on cancer and who is selected for an interview will interview with us that day. Anyone who has been selected by the UChicago team as a finalist for research start at our site will also interview on campus with us on that day.

If, for whatever reason, you can't make it when it's scheduled we will make arrangements with you. And especially if you're a college applicant and you're outside of Chicago, we will find a way around it. But for most people, we do them all together so that we can have an info session with everybody there. A question, answer. Everybody gets the same information. You sit with some of our alumni as you're waiting for your individual interview so you can ask them lots of questions and then you meet with our team for about 10 minutes.

For the other research start sites, many of them have adopted a similar format, where it's everybody together on the 20th. Some of them have elected to schedule interviews at other times and individually. So you'll hear from every research start team separately because we all conduct our own review of applications.

Decision notifications for everybody. Both programs, all sites is March 1. And then you have until March 15 to let us know if you're going to accept your spot in the program. Those are procedures. Did I miss anything about that, team?

OK. I just wanted to give you a couple of tips. I think it's useful for you to have some insight about how we approach applications when we're reviewing them. For high school applicants, I mentioned at the onset of this presentation here that for many of you, research start in EYES are going to be a good fit. And you would probably want to apply to both.

They're very similar, very similar goals. Many of you are going to be eligible for both. If that's the case, please go ahead and apply for your top choice program. So decide which program is your preference. Like if you could only go to one, which one would it be?

Apply through that application. At the bottom, there'll be a checkmark, checkbox, that you can mark to say if you're applying through research start, it'll say you're eligible for EYES. Would you like to be considered for that? Just check that off. Your application gets automatically copied and we will review both.

That's all you have to do. But we will look to see which program you applied through so that we know what your top choice is when making final decisions. And we'll try to honor that.

We consider academic performance and context. This is, again, just for high school applicants and actually just for high school applicants to research start. There are some research start sites that require GPA and transcripts. They are not asking for this because they're only interested in the top academic students. It's not really the priority at all.

They want to, in some cases, be able to see what your course history will look like. So to aid them when they're making matches with your mentor to see if this could be a good match for a computational lab, how much computer science have they had, if any? So we can better prepare or match them with a mentor who's better able to meet their ability level or their course background.

Some sites also like to see what your progression has looked like through science. So through high school. So what science courses have you taken?

Have you been able to maintain a pretty decent level of academic achievement? How's that grown over time? They like to see those kinds of patterns as well.

If there's something on your transcript or your GPA that you feel like doesn't reflect you well as an applicant or as a scientist, or whatever, you have an opportunity to explain that on your application. So there's a broad, like a wide open box.

Is there anything else that you'd like us to know about you? And that's where you could give us any of that information. And we pay a lot of attention to that. So please use that box to your advantage.

I think I am speaking on behalf of all research start teams. And certainly on behalf of the UChicago team when I say that we weigh essays heavily most of all. We weigh essays heavily most of all. We look at these most of all. These are the most important thing for us. So please take your time on them.

If you are submitting a sentence or two, that is very unlikely to give us the information that we need to really distinguish you as a candidate and to understand how strong of a fit you are for this program. And whether it's right for you at this time in your education and your training.

The UChicago team at least really focuses on two questions. The first is why cancer. You do not have to have some profound personal connection to cancer or some long term commitment. Or even be really, really interested in cancer as a long term career. Some of our applicants do have that. A lot don't.

We just want to know like if that's not the case, why do you think cancer is a worthwhile focus for you for an entire summer? This is an intensive program. We talk about cancer a lot, obviously. You need to have some understanding of why you're looking at cancer and studying cancer is going to help you move forward with your own goals.

And then the second is how will this experience benefit you uniquely? With every applicant that we admit to the program, we're asking ourselves like how is this person going to benefit? And why might this person benefit more than every other applicant who is part of our program?

So that's kind of on you to explain that to us. So for some of our students, they have zero experience, zero exposure to this field. And this is just a first step for them. This is something that they think they might like but they feel like they don't know until they can actually be in these environments and try it. That's great.

We have some applicants who are more experienced. And they're just looking for maybe even experience with a particular type of cancer or with a particular methodology. They have a little more clear idea of what they want to do in the future and they just want to build those skills. That's great too. It's just we need to know how you are going to benefit from this program.

And I say you uniquely because one of the traps that I think a lot of people fall in is when we're asking, one of the essays ask something about how will this program benefit you? They'll start listing the components of the program a lot like what I just did here, a lot like we have on our website, where they say like I want access to the mentorship, that I want hands on research. And I want career development opportunities.

And that's all great. We're glad you want those things. We want those for you too. That's why we did the program the way that we did. But there is nothing and those bullet points are just listing the things on the website that's going to distinguish you from other applicants. So it's worth taking your time to think about explaining this to us in a way that's also going to share something personal about you or help you really stick out.

Choose your recommenders wisely. So we are looking for people who can speak to, really, especially when we're thinking about recommenders. We are looking for some perspective on whether you are prepared to, the second week of the program, be thrown into a professional research environment and be able to handle that.

So that means that you have the maturity and you have the motivation to be pretty self-directed, to you respond well to feedback, to ask questions, ask for help when you need it. Those are the kinds of qualities that we need to know that you have so that you are successful in these professional environments really early in the program. And we get that insight from your teachers.

We require at least one teacher or one professor, if you're a college student, to be one of your recommenders. Good choices for other recommenders could be a coach, an employer. Any other mentor, advisor that you've had. Just again, someone who can speak to those qualities.

People who do not make great recommenders. Your mother, your aunt, your grandma. They will say wonderful things about you. We're glad you have those people in your life. But it's really hard for us to assess those recommendations and make a judgment about your readiness for the program just because they are so close to you.

And I think the last point that I had is that, and this is a pretty minor one. But if you have a question, if you want to know something about the program, if you a question about how this application process works, whatever it is, we'd like to hear from you. I get a lot of calls from parents. I got a lot of emails from parents and teachers or other people who are working with the applicant.

Just it's a lot better for us to have those conversations directly with the person who's applying with the program. It helps us to know that we get your question answered. And also that you are the one who is motivated to apply. That means a lot to us. I think that's all I had for--

Megan, if you want to maybe address how many students we accept every year. And what about the age, like an age requirement.

Sure. So for a research start, we'll take 30 over all five sites. And right now, I would plan on probably six people at each site. Sometimes we shuffle numbers around a little bit.

But 30 for research start. And then for Chicago EYES on cancer we'll take 12 to 14. And about half of those would be high school and half of those will be college. So that's what we're looking at for this year.

And then the second question was about age. We don't have a lot of flexibility with this. So for both programs, you need to be 16. At the start of the program, that means that you're 16 on or before June 12. That's a hard cutoff, unfortunately, just because of who's allowed in the lab and your regulations, and keeping people safe.

And just one more thing I think it's important to address are the hours during the summer.

Sure. So you are expected to commit 35 to 40 hours per week. Most of that time, as I said, is going to be in the lab. Your daily hours is going to depend on your laboratory supervisor. Like the actual lab that you're placed with. And they keep different hours, they have different schedules.

I think it's reasonable to assume that it will be roughly normal working hours. So maybe like 8:00 to 4:00, 9:00 to 5:00. We communicate with mentors. Some of their labs are around the clock, like keep wild hours.

But that is not appropriate for our summer mentees. So that will not be your experience. So plan on roughly working hours, but the exact details for that will depend on your individual lab.

All right. My husband has chosen now to start a hammer project directly beneath my office so sorry for that. I'm going to stop talking mostly because we brought Monica here, who's an EYES alum, recent EYES alumna, to talk about her experience. Because I think that's probably the best information that we could give you on calls like this.

So Monica, I think it's useful, you will talk about these research opportunities. And that's why everyone applies to this program to get that experience. But I think it's really useful to hear what those projects look like.

So you've had two years under your belt. And your projects have been pretty different. So could you talk to us about what you studied?

Yeah, of course. So the summer of 2021, I was under Dr. Greg [? Kazmar's ?] lab. And this was more of a dry lab focused on cancer prevention and cancer disparities. So my lab really focused on, Dr. Casmir, he was running a breast cancer clinical trial at that time. And I noticed there was a lack of diversity in there, especially within the Latinx community.

So what I did, I kind of understood the barriers and effective interventions to engage Latina participation within his breast cancer clinical studies. And that was, it was effective. So I went through the route of the church to recruit Latina women. And it was effective, being Spanish, speaking Spanish and having someone there who looks like them. And we were able to enroll 37 women into his research clinical trial so that was amazing. We increased the diversity, ultimately increasing the diversity and validity of his results, making it more applicable to a broader range or area.

And then the next summer, summer '22, this was a more wet lab and molecular-focused lab. And this was the lab I had quite trouble understanding if I was honest. So I worked under Dr. Lengyel's lab but specifically under my research mentor, who is Dr. Pascal Bus.

And my summer project was to investigate CD55 expression knockdown. And its effect on adipocytes suppressed natural killer cells. So that's a lot of sciencey words. But mainly, we wanted to see if we downregulated this gene, our natural killer cells able to kill cancer cells in the presence of fat. That's the gist of it.

So this was a lot of new techniques. It was learning PBMC isolations in a Western blot. The cell culture, understanding what cancer cells need to thrive and how we can kind of defeat them in a way. And it was very, very hands on.

So I was there, it was a 9:00 to 5:00 job. And I was there every day, Monday through Friday. And sometimes I did have to stay late until 7:00 PM because my lab, something went wrong and I had to fix it. But there was always someone there with me, guiding me, and then the next day, I could come in two hours later. So it was very balanced, I would say.

But yeah. So two different labs, one dry lab, hybrid, more computational. And then one very hands-on, wet lab, molecular-based.

Could you describe what a day looked like for you? And I'm wondering if you could remember back to 2021, because the experience of doing research in one of these versus the other, like a dry lab and wet lab is pretty different

Yeah. So 2021 was still COVID year. So it was a hybrid, it was a mix of hybrid. So I would go on site really just to talk with my PI, Dr. Greg [? Kazmar, ?] and kind of go through logistics of things. Kind of shadow him in a way and kind of see the patients he treated. How this MRI technology that he was working with, how to understand dense breath.

And that was kind of the in-person part of it. But going to the church, conducting the whole intervention, recruiting these Latino women. That was the in-person part of it.

But the my-- it was really on my end to kind of conduct interviews, to like Hispanic organizations, talking what barriers do you see to confirm my own thoughts, my hypothesis. So maybe like once or twice a week, I would go in. And then most of the time it was hybrid. You had your weekly team meetings, you had emails. Talking to your PIs, your peers around you.

And then we had educational career video calls that we had. And those were online. And there was always-- it was a hybrid. It was a mix of hybrid. And it was nice.

And then the next year, so as I mentioned, it's a full time, I was in full time. So labs are a little differently. It's different. So one of my peers, they went in from like maybe 12:00 to 5:00, five days a week or they went in a little less. But I was in there 9:00 to 5:00.

I usually got there around eight just because I like to be there early. I kind of like make sure I set up my experiments for the day, understand what I need to do. Research if I don't understand anything. So that when I go in the lab, I know what I'm doing and I don't really have to rely on somebody else. But if I need questions, if I have questions, I'll ask questions.

But yeah, that's kind of the day in the life. So I was in full time, do my experiments. If I have questions, ask questions. We have weekly team meetings, where someone would present their work, present a paper, and then we'll all talk about it. And that would be majority of what our day in the life.

What were some challenges you faced? Whether it was transportation, getting to campuses. Or getting feedback from your mentor. What were some of the challenges and how would you recommend for others who are going through this experience that it's going to be OK?

Yeah. So I had a lot of challenges, I would say. Again, this is a very molecular-based lab, wet lab, my first time. So there was a lot of things I didn't understand.

What is PBMC? What is natural killer cell? What does it do in terms of cancer? What even is adipocyte? Like what are these things?

So those were one of the challenges. And I really did talk about it with my mentor, Dr. Bus. And he provided papers and we went through these papers. I watched YouTube videos, they're always helpful. And that's kind of one challenge that I had, understanding the material in itself. Another challenge was experiment.

So my mentor is very fast paced for them. So one day I'm learning PBMC isolation, and then the other day I'm learning how to conduct a western blot. So that was another challenge, having my little notebook. And this is crucial, having a little notebook, and take notes. Take notes of the steps. Take notes of any little thing that you need to know.

And that was another challenge. Remembering these experiments and remembering what is occurring during these experiments. So I'm not just doing busy work.

And then the last challenge really was I messed up quite a few times in my lab. So we deal with blood. And then one time I messed up with the blood, and I mixed them together and I wasn't supposed to do that. And I was just very clear about it to my mentor, and he's like well, it's OK. There's nothing that can be done anymore and we're getting new blood like in an hour.

So that's kind of what happened, western blots. My western blots rarely worked. And I think that's because we were trying different methods. So if my western blot didn't come out clearly, we would try a new method. Try a new different solution. Try a new, like more time, less time.

So I guess it's just all trial and error. But through this, you always had a mentor to guide you and that was really nice. So those were my challenges, but kind of how I overcome them as well.

So Megan mentioned there's monthly activities as well throughout the year for the EYES program. If you want to talk a little bit about that experience and the activities you did, and how much time it took, because I know obviously you're in school during that time. So how you kind of balance that?

Yeah. So we have book clubs. And as Dr. Mekinda mentioned, book clubs. We had a research paper where we would talk about it. And we have this policy, more policy focus where it's a Cancer Day of Action. And these things, book club, it does take a little bit of time for you to read the book, understand the book. But that's more of a leisure activity.

So if you have free time, just read the book. They're always interesting, they're never not interesting. So it's not like a burden. The scientific journals, what we read, it's always something new. It's always something new you would learn so you always get something out of it.

And ultimately, the Cancer Day of Action, this is something that I was introduced to my first year through Michelle. And then I fell in love with it. So it's more advocacy-based and policy-based. So I've met with representatives, with senators, with legislators, to talk about increasing NIH funding for programs such as these. Biomarker exams, that are-- stuff like that.

And it's really-- so I'm a legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network. And I'm also just an American Cancer Society volunteer. So I think these, like the monthly activities really is what prompted my growth into the American Cancer Society. And now like keeping through connections with Michelle, I was able to meet a whole variety of new people. And I'm now the President of the Midwest Emerging Leaders with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

So now we manage people from Ohio, we manage people from Wisconsin. And kind of lead them into advocacy efforts within their own states, which is really amazing. But like monthly activities, I love them, I kind of miss them now. So it's very nice. And it's never dreading.

One monthly activity is to go to a conference where they fly you out, where you go-- I went to Puerto Rico for free. So it was amazing. It's not like homework. It's not homework. It's something that increases your mental education and overall, everything. It's amazing.

If I could just, because you said you missed them, I just, I think it's worth mentioning too that we are doing these activities all the time. And we also see this as one of the ways that we keep our alumni engaged. So often when we're doing an activity that we've designed as a required activity for our students, we're inviting alumni of EYES or research start at UChicago. And then often students who have participated at other sites and other sites have things going on too. So there are lots of exciting ways to continue to stay involved with these teams and your colleagues even after the summer is over.

I'd also like you to talk about your experience in the symposiums. I mean obviously, you you had both. You did, you presented a poster as well as presented oral presentation. And then you've also presented at meetings too. So maybe if you can talk about that experience.

Yeah. So my poster presentation was the summer of 2021, where I was working more cancer prevention, on public health area. And it was virtual. So I had my little notes on the side, and I was guided through that. And it was very-- It was an academic setting, but there wasn't pressure in terms of if I mess up, I failed or anything like that.

It was just showing people, showing off your work, your work that you're very proud of since you worked on it for eight weeks. And you were in and out the lab. And it was just an amazing time. You get questions from your fellow peers, from your PI. And you get to show showcase your work.

It was a very nice, a very nice experience. Mine was virtual. So it may be different to the people who are in person. But what I saw for the people who were in person, it was also casual but there was also a sense of professionalism.

But people come up to you and then you give you a little elevator pitch and then they go on to the next person. And then you are judged. My year wasn't judged since we received like individual feedback. But you will be judged. In a good way.

And then we had oral presentation. So I conducted-- the research that I did was more molecular-based. And I presented that in the oral symposium. And this one was way more daunting for me. And you have support, right?

So you have your weekly meetups with your mentor who helps you, who helps you guide you through the process. So one week, you have to have your hypothesis done. The next week you have to have your background done. The next week, your results.

And it's a guided process. So there's not much worry. But it was worrisome since you are presenting in front of an audience. You're presenting in front of your PIs, your peers. And people who come, your parents, they come.

So it is worrisome. But with practice, we have dress rehearsals, practice runs. It's nothing to be too worried about. So I really loved it too. And you are judged again. But only good things.

OK. Let's say that we have judges there to give you feedback.

Right, right. So it's--


The point is to get feedback.

So now I to not stutter as much when I present.

You know, it's probably been a while. But if you can think back to your application, what advice do you have for those that are applying in the essays and who did you choose to recommenders? Anything that would be helpful for anybody applying right now?

Yeah. So most of my-- throughout high school, I wasn't really able to participate in clubs and that's because I did taekwondo. So I've been doing taekwondo for 10 years now and it's, I think, a big part of my life. So I made sure to include that when it's like, when-- I forgot what the questions where there was why cancer and then--

It's just like is there anything else important to us to know about you.

Yeah. So I mean it was important for them to know that I did taekwondo. And I think that's very crucial since I received discipline. And I understand like when there's like an academic setting, how to act. And you know, I did teach, mentor my little, what do I call them, taekwondo kids. So I think that was important.

But really, it's just what have you done and how has that helped you. So I wrote about, I did an internship with Rush and it's called Rush Education and Career Hub my previous summer. And that kind of exposed me to cancer since we did a capstone project on breast cancer. And the funny thing is the capstone project was-- the idea was to how do we get more people to get mammograms?

And then we had this whole idea of getting interventions. And that's essentially what I did, right, for my next, for my summer project, my research project. So I was very happy about that.

But really, be, like show yourself off. Like they're not going to know if you don't tell them, right? So if you did this capstone project and you won an award for it, tell them. They're not going to know if you don't tell them. And I think that's the most important thing.

But also don't lie. So don't like I-- an ideal me would be like, oh, I go and meditate out in the garden and all of this stuff but that's not me. So I think just being true to yourself and showcase yourself. Show yourself off. That's very important.

Great answer, thank you. Megan, I think I remember one question from the chat last night, was what about a resume? Any extraneous materials. Can you talk about that?

Don't do it. Don't. So here, we get a lot, a lot, a lot of applications. We're prepared for that. We are very careful in what we're asking for.

So we put a lot of thought into the application essays. We know that they seem pretty straightforward, but we've actually thought pretty carefully about like OK, what exactly do we want to know from each applicant? We have put a lot of thought into what we ask for, it is all that we need. Please do not give us anything else.

One, because we honestly don't have the time or the structure now to review it, like everything is pretty streamlined, like we have a way of collecting things. We have a way of processing your application. And also just for an equibility standpoint. We just, we won't review it. So we want to make sure that we're evaluating every applicant based on the same materials, that everyone has the same opportunity to provide exactly the same type and quantity of information. So please don't give us anything that we don't ask for.

So again, for most of you, that's just going to be the online, for EYES on cancer students, it's just going to be that online application and an online recommendation forms. And then the interview at stage two. And then for research start, we're acquiring the GPA and the transcript, just because that's something that some of the site's teams just prefer. They prefer to have that information as well.

I should note that transcript does not have to be official. So if you go on your student portal page, you can do a screenshot. You can print something from that page. It doesn't have to be official from the school. But you need to make sure that it has your name and the name of the school on it.

You'd be surprised how many files we get that don't have the name and the final name either. And we open it up and there's no identifying information anywhere. Don't do that to us. It makes us sad.

Yeah. Anything else? I realized they were-- we could go on forever. And especially like hearing from Monica. Monica, thank you. We really put you on the spot with very short notice. So thank you for sharing so openly too about your experiences.

I think, as I said many times, I think that's the best information we can give to anybody considering the program, is some first hand perspective. Unless anyone has anything else to add, I want to do my last slide.

OK. So sorry about the hammering, he knows I'm doing this. Anyway, so the last slide that I wanted to share. We mentioned that we have over 300 applications to these programs for 12 to 30 slots. So there's many, many, many, many more. There are many, many, many, many more applicants who apply for this who we would love to have, that we just can't accommodate.

I don't want that to discourage you at all. Like if you are interested in a summer program, if you are interested in exploring careers in science and gaining some more skills to move your toward those careers, please take a look at any of these links that we have featured on this page, take a screenshot.

Most of these, if you follow the link, will take you to a page that you can click on opportunities for high school students. Opportunities for undergraduates. And they list multiple programs under each of those.

There is a lot out there. There's a lot out there in Chicago. I'm most familiar with UChicago. Our team is, just because these are our colleagues who we know are running fantastic programs. So there-- I have a number of links there.

We also know from our colleagues at the cancer centers at UIC and Northwestern, they've got pages to multiple opportunities. I have Citywide here. But I'm actually realizing, I think this is a statewide database that's being developed by a group from UIC for careers in health care.

So if you go to that page, they'll list, not exclusively at these institutions either. Like all over the state, opportunities available to you. And then nationwide. So we have the American Association for Cancer Research, I mentioned that already. They keep a list of opportunities available to students.

I think geared more heavily toward undergraduate students, but there are some opportunities there for high school students. Many of them are residential, so these could be opportunities for you to go live somewhere else, at another college campus for a summer. Or even a high school student just to get out of Chicago. So check those out.

And then the Leadership Alliance is exclusively for undergraduates. But I think there's more than 50 institutions now who are part of that alliance, who are offering research and training opportunities in all academic disciplines. But many in the biological sciences. So check that out.

I will say like us, many of these opportunities have deadlines that are fast approaching. So don't wait to check these out. Make sure you're aware of when these deadlines are. And actually, I have, in red here, one of the deadlines is coming up on December 21.

There's a Space Explorers Program at UChicago. I think through our astrophysics department. But it's a pretty cool opportunity. You can find more information about on that link to the stem page there.

So please, check these out. Apply to many. Because if this is something you want to do this summer, we want to make sure that you find an opportunity that is right for you. So I think with that, we can say--

Contact information.

The contact information.

Be sure to contact [INAUDIBLE].

I love my team. OK. Question. So there is a lot more information about both of these programs on the EYES site and on the research start site. So the links to each of those programs are there.

Michelle is kind of-- she knows everything. She's been with these programs since the beginning. So please reach out to her if you have any questions that can't be answered for you on those sites. But please, please check the sites first and also check our frequently asked questions page first before you reach out to Michelle. We try to keep that updated as best we can.

OK. Now is there anything else? All right, thank you for watching. We look forward to your application. And hopefully, we'll see you this summer. Bye.


Program Team


Eileen Dolan, PhD
Professor of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology
Deputy Director, UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center

Sam Armato, PhD
Associate Professor of Radiology
Associate Director for Education

Megan Mekinda, PhD
Director for Education, Training, and Evaluation
Director, researcHStart
Basia Galinski, PhD
Scientific Liaison for Cancer Education
Michelle Domecki, BA
Cancer Education Coordinator


Rex Gaskins, PhD
Kelley Professor of Immunophysiology
Associate Director for Education, Cancer Center at Illinois 

Marcia Pool, PhD
Assistant Director for Education

Kristin Giglietti
Educational Program Manager and Instructor


Paul Grippo, PhD
Associate Professor of Medicine
Associate Director, Cancer Research Enhancement and Education

Larisa Nonn, PhD
Associate Director, Education and Training

Ifeanyi Beverly Chukwudozie, MBA, MPH
Assistant Director, Cancer Research Career Enhancement and Education
University of Illinois Cancer Center

Nathaniel Squaire, BS
Program Coordinator, Cancer Research Career Enhancement and Education
University of Illinois Cancer Center

Amy Hayden
Writing Specialist


Marcelo Bonini, PhD
Associate Director, Education and Training

Gina Kirsammer, PhD
Research Assistant Professor

Sara Duffey, MSW
Senior Program Coordinator

Jeffrey Borgia, PhD
Associate Professor of Medicine
Department of Cell and Molecular Medicine

Students & Alumni

Mariam Aljuboory
Lulu Allie
Feker Chane
Marcos Chavez
Aleksander Dale
Allyson Duong
Chukwuka Ejindu
John Farley
Jessica Gerber
Eduardo Gonzalez
Sarah Guo
Varun Kanangat
Noam Kramer
Rena Li
Amy Li
Trisha Mondal
Anish Mukherjee
Moses Osineye
Jiya Pai
Harsh Patel
Iliana Perez
Samara Rezwan
Connor Roche
Joshua Song
Elia Suarez
Steven Uruchima
Mariam Vaid
Nandana Varma
Tyler Wang
Lily Weaver
Kaylen Baker
Maya Ballard
Swetha Chandrasekar
Atharva Desai
Montgomery Ellwanger
John Forsyth
Keshav Gandhi
Alex Gerber
Zachary Gillis
Vidya Gundlapalli
Leah Ju
Grace Juhn
Seoyeon (Esther) Lee
Nancy Limon
Andrew Littmann
Jaylen Lockhart
Kendall Morgan
Jasmine O’Connor
Aryav Panda
Sarah Park
Guadalupe Quinones
Anel Reinoso
Raneem Saadah
Ibrahim Salih
David Wang
Jada Williams
Natalie Zajczenko

Sidharth Addepalli
Anushka Agrawal
Justin Banks
Maggie Cao
Fiona Fryman
Eric Gan
Erica Guelfi
Emma Hambley
Zona Hrjnak
Amey Maley
Sophia De Oliveira
Ishaar Ganesan
Bridgette Garnache
Neha Hebar
Junbin Huang
Emily Oakley
Sidharth Panda
Omar Reyes
Olivia Sconyers
Abria Smith
Dyan Smith
Kate Stack
Diana Striyeshyn
Kristine Wang

Hassan Abioye
Christopher Adame
Uma Basole
Shyama Bhatt
Esther Chung
Ritu Dave
Alexander Dong
Jacob Gillis
Neha Gutta
Stephanie Herrera
Spencer Huynh
Hannah Lin
Abigail Molina-Calderon
Jacob Mozdzen
Anneliese Paton
Josh Sanford
Taliah Soleymani
Noah Taylor
Kareem Washington
Lauren Williams
George Yacu
Edith Yao
Justin Zhang
Eman Zwawi

Mayokun Abiona
Ngozi Amadikwu
Briana Benton-Price
Elizabeth Breen
Brandon Brown
Joy Chen
Yesenia Diaz
Robert Forsyth
Mahie Gopalka
Jasmine Harris
Cameron Herman
Angel Hernandez
Simon Hernandez
Kashif Javid
Jada Jefferson
Dalya Kanani
Maggie Li
Sarah Matatov
Aditi Mehta
Pooja Patel
Jarron Roy
Malaak Saadah
Julian Starks
Yichen Yao

Isabel An
Saneha Borisuth
Danielle Calloway
Olivia Coletta
Mayela Correa
Rohit De
Anusha Ebrahim
Samuel Hotchkiss
Talia Kahn
Kaviamuthan Kanakaraju
Katherine Maloney
Raisa Munshi
Caitlin O’Callaghan
Reuben Park
Roshni Patel
Sanya Rupani
Hailan Shanbhag
Zhixin Shou
Daniel Spalinski
Rebecca Valek
Jonathan Wang
Bhargav Yadavalli

Ebere Agwuncha
Alexandra Arca
Sarah Asson
Nipun Dubey
Kathryn Finn
Mona Kharoofa
Angela Lee
Isabella Lee
Maura McDonagh
Caroline Miller
Victoria Ogunro
Alexa Roman
Caroline Thomas
Leah Wallach
Sarah Whiteside
Arjun Zutshi

Advisory Committee

The researcHStart Advisory Committee provides strategic guidance regarding the program's continued growth and development.

Members include representatives from each participating program site, program donors and other members of the Illinois cancer community.

Dr. Sam Armato
University of Chicago

Dr. Jeffrey Borgia
Rush University

Beverly Chukwudozie
University of Illinois at Chicago

Debra Cohen 

Dr. Paul Grippo
University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Gina Kirsammer
Northwestern University

Jada Kline

Dr. Megan Mekinda
University of Chicago

Dr. Marcia Pool
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign