The PINC Summer Program 2021 got 30 Bio/Chem Students into Coding and Research at the Same Time!

13 Sep

by Dr. Pleuni Pennings

One of our students said it best: 

“PSP led me through my first research project and allowed me to present on the summer project. PSP has given me confidence in my ability to do scientific research and analyze the results of the research. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to improve my public speaking through our research symposium at the end of the program.”

What is the PINC Summer Program? 

The PINC Summer Program is a part-time program where students work in teams with a peer-mentor. They learn coding skills as well as work on a research project with their mentor and a faculty advisor. At the end of the 9-week program, the teams give a talk about their work at a research symposium. 

We have run a similar program since 2017 and written about it here. Most importantly: (1) The program is part-time on purpose to allow students to join who have other obligations, like jobs and families; (2) the students work in teams and all work takes place during team meetings – this way there is always a friendly person nearby (on zoom these days) when you are stuck; and (3) the coding skills they learn are applied to biology or chemistry research immediately.   

Who participated in the 2021 PINC summer program? 

Many people are involved in the PINC Summer Program. 

First of all, there are about 30 student participants, more about them in the next paragraph. The 30 students were organized in 6 teams. Each team had a peer mentor and a faculty advisor. The peer mentors were Angela Lane (grad student and CC lecturer), Carmen Gonzalez, Elissa Vazquez, Liz Mathiasen, Jason Hernandez and Patra Holmes (all PINC students and GenPINC scholars). The faculty advisors this year were Drs Gretchen Lebuhn, Jaime Chavez, Rori Rohlfs, Jessica Weng, Nicole Adelstein and Derrick Groom. 

In addition to those groups, the staff consisted of Torey Jacques (mentor trainer), Dr Sophie Archambeault (weekly workshop organizer), Rochelle-Jan Reyes (all-around organizer). Pleuni Pennings, Nicole Adelstein and Rori Rohlfs were responsible for the entire program. 

More about the students

The PINC Summer Program reaches a diverse group of students, in terms of ethnicity, gender and majors (see image). 

In terms of prior experience, 6 students had prior research experience, while 24 didn’t. 5 students had previously taken a coding class at SFSU while 25 didn’t. The 5 students who had coding experience were all part of the PINC program. We placed them all in the same team. Out of the 25 students with no coding experience, 9 signed up for CSC 306 (intro to python) in the fall of 2021. 

How did it go?

Overall, the program worked well this summer, with a few hiccups. In one team, several students had to leave the program midway for personal reasons. We recruited one new student from another program (SCIP) to join the team that had gotten a little small. 

At the end of the summer all teams did a presentation in our end-of-summer research symposium. It was really fun to hear the students talk about their research! Almost all students spoke for at least a few minutes. 

Most students who did the post-program survey are expecting to use coding in their career. 

We got answers such as “I want to pursue a career in medicinal research, and I envision using my coding skills to analyze and communicate my research with other scientists who share my interest in study.” However, a few students didn’t see it this way: “No I don’t because programming is a little too hard for me. I don’t see myself doing it seriously but for fun and for educational purposes, yes.”

Here are a few other interesting quotes from the post-program survey: 

“PSP has really showed me how fun research and science can be if you’re in a group with people you get along with.”

“I think it was helpful because we were a small group with our mentor and advisor which made it more “relaxing”. We could easily ask questions, and reach to each other. It was a nice dynamic overall.”

“Relentlessly positive, but slightly chaotic”

What’s next?

During the program, we held a lab matchmaking event in order to help students meet faculty and see if their interests align with faculty labs from SFSU and UC Berkeley. At the end of the summer, several students joined a lab. Secondly, several signed up for a coding class. Some felt like they were too busy during the fall to do either coding or research. For a few students, we don’t know what their plans are. 

Funding

The PINC Summer Program 2021 was paid for by a grant from the Genentech Foundation (PI Dr Frank Bayliss). The budget was $60,000 (roughly $9,000 for support staff, $6000 for the directors, $17000 for the mentors and $22,000 for the faculty advisors). 

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