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The Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program allows students and faculty to learn from each other outside of the classroom.

The 10-week program during the summer funds freshmen and sophomores to serve as research assistants to faculty members. Applications for the program opened Monday and will close on Feb. 20.

According to Wallace Genser, Associate Director for Undergraduate Research, 130 faculty members submitted 250 projects this year.

However, only around 50 projects will receive research funding of $2,500 from PURM.

Additionally, only 60 to 80 students of the 500 who are expected to apply will receive a $3,000 stipend, Genser said. Students who will receive stipends are chosen based on grade point average, appropriate class preparation for the projects they apply for and prior research background.

According to Genser, PURM seeks to introduce students to some of the cutting-edge research at Penn. “We also want to launch long-term collaborations for students with faculty … and to potentially prepare students for a research career,” he said.

Founded in 2007 solely for freshmen, PURM was able to add positions for sophomores in 2009, following a grant from President Amy Gutmann.

Rachel Cohen, a College senior who participated in PURM the summer of 2010, felt the experience was worthwhile.

Cohen, who looked at heart diseases in dogs with Professor Oyama in the School of Veterinary Medicine, said PURM made the faculty more invested in her success. “Transitively, I met so many other professors at the Vet School,” she said. “PURM was also an introduction to clinical research on animals, which I had not done before.”

Far from just gaining research experience, Cohen also made discoveries that impacted the research team. “We had significant findings. The Vet School really benefited,” she said. Her research findings allowed her to present her findings at the American College of Internal Veterinary Medicine in 2011.

“I was the only undergraduate there,” she said. “They saw that I had thought up and executed a project from start to finish,” she added.

Research positions are not limited to the sciences, however. This year, projects were submitted from all 12 schools.

Rogers Smith, a political science professor, is looking for assistants for his two projects this summer. He had a positive experience serving as a faculty mentor last year. “The PURM students were excellent, they really couldn’t have been better,” he said. “One was helping me revive a book project …and the other collected about 95 percent of the readings for a course I am teaching this semester.”

Earth and Environmental Sciences assistant professor Alain Plante was skeptical at first about PURM. He said some faculty members were initially concerned “how freshmen would be capable of producing reasonable research.”

“I now approach it knowing they are first year so they require some level of extra guidance,” he added.

Smith was pleased with the PURM selection process. “Its great strength is that it helps faculty find students with a wide range of interests,” he said, “so you get a better student match than you might otherwise.”

While PURM’s purpose is to match undergraduates to faculty for the summer, students may also organize research positions on their own.

“I’ve met students this year who say, ‘I didn’t get a spot, but I wound up working with a professor anyway, by reapplying to him on my own,’” Genser said.

Cohen, however, felt that PURM positions might be more rewarding than privately organized placements. “A lot of my friends reached out independently of PURM, but often that kind of research is haphazard,” she said, adding that seeing a project from start to finish is “what makes PURM stick out.”

Yong Feng See, a College freshman who plans to apply to PURM, feels the program would be a valuable way to spend the summer. “It seems like a good opportunity to get to know a professor, find out about research,” he said. “Some of the topics looked interesting, and it seems like a good way to explore Philly during the summer,” he said.

Perhaps echoing the views of many freshmen, See hopes that PURM will introduce undergraduates to meaningful research. “I definitely want to do something more than just filing,” he said. “I want to be part of the actual research process.”

This article has been updated from a prior version to reflect that Wallace Genser is the Associate Director for Undergraduate Research, not the director of PURM.

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