The students were enrolled in PSURE, the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, which since the mid-1990s has offered prospective grad-school applicants a closer look at Ph.D. studies. Though PSURE reaches a relatively small audience, it is a “critical part” of the graduate school’s outreach to minority students, according to Karen Jackson-Weaver ’94, associate dean for academic affairs and diversity.
Chemistry professor Steven Bernasek, a longtime PSURE mentor, said that in their time on campus, participants gain an appreciation for the “intense interaction with a problem” that graduate students and postdoctoral researchers encounter on a daily basis. Students also prepare for the GRE, learn the finer points of drafting a CV, and polish their presentation skills, beginning with “three-five talks” (three slides, five minutes) and culminating with poster presentations at an annual conference of summer researchers from several peer institutions.
For Mildred Lopez, a senior molecular biology major at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, speaking about research was nothing new — at scientific conferences, she’d presented to colleagues in both English and Spanish. But at PSURE, she had to explain biological concepts like quorum sensing (a way in which bacteria sense each other and communicate) to peers from the humanities and social sciences.
“I felt like a teacher,” said Lopez, who worked in the lab of mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Howard Stone. “It is very rewarding when you see they actually understood you. Throughout the program and after each presentation, I felt more and more confident about my research project.”
Most PSURE participants go on to graduate programs, Jackson-Weaver said, and many — including Lopez — add Princeton to their short list of schools.