Each summer, students from across the country participate in Mayo Clinic’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, known as SURF. Mayo Clinic labs in Florida, Minnesota, and Arizona host this 10-week program to promote development of technical skills, hands-on lab experience, and enthusiasm for biomedical research. Students have the opportunity to conduct their own research projects or to be part of an ongoing project investigation in areas like microbiome research, devices and detection, or computational and genomic medicine.
Since the establishment of the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance for Technology-Based Healthcare in 2010, at least five students from Illinois have been selected to participate in SURF each year. The University of Illinois is the most strongly represented institution in the program, with 70 participants over the last eight years. In summer 2018, fourteen Illinois undergrads will be conducting research in Mayo Clinic labs—a record for number of Illinois SURF students in a given year.
“Considering over 1,300 SURF program applications were submitted from all across the country and only 148 students were selected to participate this year, Illinois’ representation is remarkable,” said Dr. Bruce Horazdovsky, SURF Program Manager at Mayo Clinic.
SURF applicants must be undergraduates in their sophomore or junior year with at least a 3.0 grade point average standing. Students are hand-picked to demonstrate the qualities needed to excel in a rigorous biomedical research environment.
“Through the Alliance partnership, we have relied on the insight of Illinois program leaders to identify the best students for Mayo Clinic’s SURF program,” said Dr. Horazdovsky. “They have helped us identify those individuals that are passionate about research and are committed to pursuing PhD or MD-PhD training. Passion, drive, and commitment are key attributes of successful program candidates.”
During the fellowship, students gain invaluable experience in clinical research and technology development. According to junior Rebecca Wipfler, who participated in the program in the summer of 2017, SURF allowed her to meet motivated students from all over the country and determine whether a career in biomedical research was the right direction for her future.
“My time at Mayo really allowed me to delve into and focus just on biomedical research, something I hadn't had a chance to do yet at Illinois,” said Wipfler, who researched neurodegeneration during her time in SURF. “Overall it was a unique opportunity to learn about the latest research and ideas happening within my field of interest.”
The effects of the program don’t disappear after the 10 weeks are over. Students return to their studies with rich experiential knowledge and a better understanding of research translation and application.
“Everyone I met had an interest in the biomedical sciences and yet came from vastly different backgrounds, which made me realize there isn't one set path to reaching your career goals,” said Wipfler.
“Once at Mayo Clinic, SURF students from Illinois are also exposed to future educational opportunities at Mayo Clinic,” said Dr. Horazdovsky. “Not only does this partnership benefit the SURF program, but it also provides program directors throughout Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences the opportunity to identify and recruit the next generation of outstanding biomedical researchers.”
Whether students decide to continue a path with Mayo or pursue other opportunities, the program offers groundbreaking education and experience for future healthcare innovators. The program teaches and strengthens research skills while simultaneously developing and stimulating curious minds.
“You will learn something, be pushed to become a more independent researcher, and learn about the latest in biomedical topics from some of the top scientists and doctors in the country,” said Wipfler. “The level of professionalism is extreme, but in a good way. You will grow up and be more prepared for any future research position.”