Broad’s summer research programs for high school and college students have helped shape the careers of more than 300 young scientists
In their 20th and 10th years, the Broad Summer Research Program and the Broad Summer Scholars Program continue to help students feel a sense of belonging in the lab.
Organized by the Broad’s Office for STEM Engagement and Inclusion, the programs aim to not just teach research skills but also help students to manage “imposter syndrome,” see themselves as scientists, and feel seen as scientists — which are particularly important for students from groups that have been historically excluded from STEM fields. By the end of the program, many students say they feel confident about bringing their whole selves to the lab.
“A lot of programs will challenge you scientifically, but they won't acknowledge that other aspect of your identity,” added Kamryn Graham, a BSRP alumna from 2022 and senior at Davidson College who will start a PhD program at the Rockefeller University this fall. “I think the Broad Summer Research Program does a beautiful job at acknowledging both and bringing them together.”
Thinking like a scientist
During the summer programs, the students work closely with scientific mentors on research projects, making valuable contributions to labs across Broad and helping their mentors see the work in a new light. They also attend lectures, prepare and present posters about their projects, and receive training in scientific communications. Alumni said that these experiences taught them to ask questions and solve problems like a scientist.
When Eli Levitt came to BSSP in 2019 after his junior year in high school, he intended to major in math and become an engineer. He’d never liked biology. But at the Broad, in a lab, things were different. Levitt loved being in a setting where everything wasn’t already known — where everyone asked questions together.
“It taught me to start thinking like a scientist,” said Levitt, who is now a biology major at Vassar and hopes to work as a researcher after graduation.
“We've picked students that we know have ability, because in whatever circumstance they've been, they've made the most of it,” said Bruce Birren, who is the founder of the Broad’s diversity initiative that hosts both programs and is the director of the Genomic Center for Infectious Disease at the Broad. “Many of them haven't been in places like this yet, but we are confident that they will thrive here. We also work to ensure the environment offers them the support they need to thrive. I'm never surprised by their success. I'm just delighted by it.”
“I’m inspired by how these programs have evolved over the years, beginning with Bruce’s vision and with the strong support of Broad’s leaders, who saw this work as something the institute needed to prioritize from the earliest days of the institution,” said Todd Golub, Broad’s institute director. Members of Golub’s cancer genetics lab have mentored several BSRP students, including Graham. “These mentorships across the Broad have resulted in hundreds of young scientists making important contributions. The program really exemplifies what the Broad is all about: training and supporting tomorrow’s scientists.”
A new perspective
The students aren’t the only ones who spend the summer learning. Broad scientists who mentor students in the programs said that teaching students made them better scientists and communicators, and that walking a new researcher through a concept helped them understand it more thoroughly.
Sometimes, students also gave mentors a fresh perspective on a research problem. Poppy Sephton-Clark, a postdoctoral researcher at Broad, remembers a student devising a way to remember chemical functional groups and their properties, assigning scissors to one and glue to another. “I’d never thought about functional groups like that before,” Sephton-Clark said.
Others see being a mentor in the Broad summer programs as an opportunity to pass on research training from their mentors. Jon Madison, a former research scientist at Broad, mentored summer students for more than 10 years. “It really gave me an opportunity to re-experience all of the joy and passion that I originally found when I decided I wanted to be a biologist,” he said.
Alumni of the programs spoke about the computational skills they gained, and also how their summer experiences motivated them to get advanced degrees. Though high school junior Annie Miall was excited when she was accepted to BSSP in 2017, part of her wondered what she, just 17, could bring to a lab. But Miall quickly learned to be a computational scientist, using Python to analyze experimental data and generate visualizations for her team.
“At the beginning of the summer, I couldn't wrap my head around why I was here, because I had very little research experience,” said Miall, now a senior at Harvard studying biology and history of science. “But throughout the summer, my mentor and other people within the program really encouraged me and showed that everyone does contribute something.”
Graham, too, gained the confidence to apply to PhD programs, from both her mentor and peers. “Learning new things is exhilarating, but it’s also really hard,” Graham said. “But our cohort was able to keep me so excited about just being there for the summer and all the opportunities we had.”
“For many of these students it’s the first time they are surrounded by students who look like them and are as excited about science as they are,” Birren said. “And they’re surrounded by people who will fan the flames of that to say, ‘Not only do you have people who support you, but you have a space waiting for you in science.’”
Learn more about BSRP and BSSP, including application information, here.