Students Reflect on the Molecular Biology and QCB Undergraduate Research Program

Summer Research Expo

As Princeton students return to campus for the fall semester, their days are full of opportunities to get reacquainted with old friends. These meetings almost always begin with a curious and expectant, “What did you do this summer”?

For students who participated in the Molecular Biology and QCB Undergraduate Research Program, they can respond with stories of labs throughout the department, as well as in cross-listed disciplines, and of diving into their independent research. The program was held from June 10th through August 9th and served as an opportunity for students from Princeton and elsewhere to submerge themselves in the lifestyle of a scientific researcher. This year 82 students participated in the program, each working closely with a faculty adviser on a specific project.

“My project was interested in the mechanism of how major histocompatibility complex class I affects synapse number in the developing brain, specifically through insulin receptor function,” said Cerena Chen ‘13, who worked in the Boulanger lab. “This program was definitely helpful for my thesis work. I realize that a MOL senior thesis will be a great undertaking, and I am better prepared for approaching the work during the school year.”

Like Chen, a number of the students in the program used the time to start their senior thesis projects.

“I’ve set myself up for a lot of work, but hopefully a lot of results, for this coming year,” said Chris Teng ’13. Teng works in the Hughson lab and will be trying to identify whether and how the DsI1 tethering complex establishes first contact with incoming vesicles from the Golgi body to the endoplasmic reticulum.

“This summer was definitely helpful for my thesis work,” said Gretchen Hoffman ’13 from the Gitai Lab. “I have a lot more research to do this year, but I feel that I have a better sense of direction and familiarity in the lab, so my experiments should hopefully go faster once I resume again in the fall.” Hoffmann’s work is aimed at understanding the function of the unique cell shape of Caulobacter crescentus, a bacterium which is naturally curved but grows straight in laboratory environments.

Fifteen students in the program were visiting from other institutions, hailing from locations as close as Barnard College and as far away as the University of Puerto Rico.

“This program left me feeling almost certain that I will pursue a life as a biological researcher in an academic setting,” said Rick Miller, St. John’s University ’13. “I enjoy the collaborative atmosphere that develops between principal investigators, scientists, and students and I want to be a part of it.”

“I gained a much greater appreciation of just how much there is to know in molecular biology,” said Eric Sawyer, Davidson College ’14. “It’s amazing how much thought and energy is required to answer what seems at first like a simple question.”

In addition to spending time in the lab tackling their research projects, students met weekly in small discussion groups and had the opportunity to attend a Molecular Biology lunch lecture series with professors chosen prior to the start of the program by Molecular Biology students.

“The social aspect was amazing, and I met a lot of new and interesting people and even got close with admirable scientists,” said Emily Ross, Carroll College ’14. “I love all the connections I made.”

“I did not expect to make the friends that I made at Princeton. I was expecting a very competitive atmosphere, but everyone was very friendly and accommodating,” said Rick Miller.

The program concluded with a poster session in which students from the program displayed the results of their work and discussed future plans with fellow program participants, professors, and graduate students.

More information about the program as well as the abstract book for student work can be found at

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