Department of BioMolecular Sciences
The University of Mississippi

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Pharmacy School Expands Research Experience to Boost Recruiting

Program exposes non-UM students to graduate opportunities

OXFORD, Miss. – In an effort to engage students with research interests from outside the university, the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has completed the first run of an expanded version of its annual Summer Research Experience.

The 2023 Summer Research Experience marks the realization of a multi-year goal to host a version of the annual summer program that would include non-UM students for the first time and broaden graduate program recruitment efforts in the pharmaceutical sciences.

“The best way to introduce them to the university is to have them come and spend some time here,” said Soumyajit Majumdar, the pharmacy school’s associate dean for research and graduate programs.

The nine-week program seeks to provide pharmaceutical science research opportunities for students considering careers in research or academia. Participants are given opportunities to learn about cutting-edge STEM-related topics, develop presentation and communication skills, practice networking skills, and explore and develop their interest in STEM-related research.

Along with research opportunities, students also participate in social activities, such as painting, bowling and team building activities, as well as engage in professional and career development sessions.

The school’s BioMolecular Sciences and Pharmacy Administration departments each hosted students during the 2023 program. BioMolecular Sciences participants worked in the lab setting assisting faculty members with ongoing research projects, while Pharmacy Administration participants worked in research groups outside of the lab setting.

“It was wonderful getting to know each of the students and I enjoyed their final research presentations, seeing what they’ve been working so hard on in the labs, what they’d learned and what they hoped to take away from the research experience,” said Jessica Crawley, BioMolecular Science’s operations coordinator.

The summer program began in 2018, but previously was open exclusively to Ole Miss students. But leaders in the school’s Office of Research and Graduate Programs saw an opportunity to broaden recruiting efforts, bring in outside students and, hopefully, turn participants into graduate program applicants.

Majumdar and Melissa King, program manager, began working on ways to increase graduate program applications, particularly from students not already part of the university, in 2019. They began with a partnership with Alcorn State University.

“Alcorn was eager to partner with us and they have been great to work with,” Majumdar said.

This summer, the Summer Research Experience welcomed three Alcorn students, including Shaquira Funchess, a biochemistry major from Madison.

“I wanted to participate in the program to improve my research and science communication skills and to be around graduate students and lab instructors who could educate and inspire me in the field of biomolecular science research,” Funchess said. “I have gained so much knowledge about how air quality research is conducted and have seen the firsthand impact of research on the communities around us and the potential health effects of exposure to toxins in the air.”

Funchess said she is pleased that research she assisted in conducting will have a far-reaching impact beyond the nine weeks she spent in the program.

“With help, I have conducted research on counting the amount and types of pollen in Oxford and my research will support Dr. Courtney Roper’s lab establishing the first site in Mississippi to contribute to a national pollen monitoring network,” she said.

This year’s program also hosted students from Meridian Community College, Mississippi State University and Mississippi College.

By combining resources from the UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Office of the Provost, and School of Pharmacy, the Office of Research and Graduate Programs had enough funding to cover the costs for 12 students. Ole Miss faculty members provided money for two more students, for a total of 14.

Each participant received a $5,000 stipend, with those funded by the school and its partners also getting allowances for housing and food. Non-UM students also received parking and travel allowances.

“It’s been exciting,” King said. “We had to overcome some challenges, administrative and otherwise, which were all learning opportunities so we are ready for next year. It was wonderful to see these students here participating.”

With partial funding already in hand, program leaders are eager to continue the expanded program next summer, Majumdar said.

“We are looking forward to enhancing our relationship with Alcorn and also building partnerships with other institutions,” he said.