Seeing STARS


Five stellar students gained valuable, first-hand experience conducting research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography this summer as part of an immersive UC San Diego-wide research academy that gives underrepresented undergraduates a taste of graduate school life. UCSD's Summer Training Academy for Research in the Sciences (STARS) aims to increase the number of minority students with research experience and enhance their preparation for doctoral study. The intensive eight-week program provides research internships for students to experience the rigors of doctoral programs, and affords them the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most distinguished researchers in their fields of interest.

The students’ summer research projects ranged from examining how exercise affects respiration in amphibious mudskippers and genetic analysis of sperm whale sociality in the Pacific Ocean, to satellite imaging of local kelp forest canopies and understanding the physics behind sub-tropical sub-surface water in an attempt to improve weather models.

This summer, Scripps hosted undergraduate students Martha Arciniega from UC Santa Cruz; Kenneth Fairbarn from UC Santa Barbara; Alex Marquez from UC San Diego; Bridget Navarro from UCLA; and Jennifer Smith from UC Santa Cruz.

Throughout the summer, the students kept a rigorous schedule. They spent six to eight hours in lab research each day, and participated in weekly student development workshops, as well as twice-weekly graduate records exam (GRE) courses. Much of this work was done in preparation for the UCSD Summer Research Conference held August 14, where STARS students were required to formally present their research.

“The STARS experience has been very helpful in preparing me for the application process and entry into graduate school,” said Fairbarn, who is now considering a move to San Diego and a future at Scripps.

The five Scripps STARS were part of a larger group of 39 participants spread throughout various academic divisions of the UCSD campus. One STARS student was funded through UC Santa Cruz, NIH Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) and UCSD Office of Graduate Studies Diversity Funds, while the remaining four STARS students were funded as part of the two-year University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees program (UCLEADS). UCSD recruits second summer UCLEADS scholars from other UC’s to the STARS program as part of for their second summer research internship requirement.

Scripps faculty mentors who guided the STARS student’s summer research efforts were: Professor of Marine Biology Brian Palenik, Professor of Oceanography Paul Dayton, Research Physiologist and Marine Biologist Jeff Graham, Oceanographer Lynn Talley, and Sarah Mesnick of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scripps graduate student advocates Elisa Maldonado and Rosa Leal also work closely with the students.

“The opportunity to perform research at a world-renowned institution such as Scripps has meant a lot to me because I aspire to get my Ph.D. in marine biology or biological oceanography at Scripps,” said Arciniega. “The independence I have had working in Dr. Palenik's lab has allowed me to teach myself about the research I am doing and challenge myself.”

“It’s amazing to gain research experience as an undergraduate student in a field I want to pursue for my career,” said Smith. “It’s been like a dream come true.”

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