Beckman Scholars

Program Overview

What is the Beckman Scholars Program?

In 2015, Barnard College became a first-time recipient of the prestigious Beckman Scholars Program award, funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. Barnard is one of 12 institutions receiving a 2015 award.

The first Beckman scholars competition was held in Spring 2015, and applications will also be solicited in Spring 2016 and Spring 2017.

The Beckman Scholars Program provides exceptionally talented undergraduate scholars with meaningful research opportunities in Biology, Chemistry, or Neuroscience & Behavior. Barnard’s program will support four outstanding students, one to two per year. Each scholar will receive myriad resources, including generous stipends for two summers and a stipend during the intervening academic year. Scholars and mentors receive additional funds for supplies, publication costs, and travel to conferences. Faculty mentors will furnish hands-on guidance and support throughout.

Columbia students should apply through the Columbia College program.

Eligible Students

All applicants must be full-time undergraduate students who have declared majors in biology, chemistry, or neuroscience as well as U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Top candidates will demonstrate evidence of critical traits such as leadership, maturity, perseverance, and dedication to scientific research. They will have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher, research interests or experience aligned with a participating mentor, particularly compelling goals for independent research and post-graduate pursuits, superior communication skills, and a commitment to meeting the participation requirements for two summers and the intermediate academic year. Rising seniors cannot participate.

How to Apply

Timeline

October-December 2016: Prospective applicants should discuss the feasibility of substantive projects with Beckman mentors, and consider early major declaration in an appropriate major

January 27, 2017: Deadline for preliminary application and materials

February 10, 2017: Deadline for finalizing application materials; if you haven't already, complete the preliminary application

March 2 & 3, 2017: Beckman candidate interviews

 

Guidelines and Checklist

Item

 

Guidelines

Resume or CV

 

One page

Student statement, 2-3 pages

 

Students should prepare a two to three page statement that concisely summarizes

  1. proposed research projects and goals, making sure to specify how these are compatible with the research of the faculty mentor and the host lab;
  2. educational and career goals after graduating from Barnard College;
  3. any prior lab research experience, including the lab’s location, duration of time in the lab, name of mentor, and their unique contributions;
  4. any experience authoring or co-authoring a scientific publication or presenting research at a scientific seminar or conference; and
  5. plans for managing the rigorous commitments of the Beckman Scholars program.

Resume or CV

 

One page

Print out of transcript

 

Unofficial copy from the registrar is permissible; most recent semester’s course grades included.

Recommendation letter from the mentor

 

The mentor should also append a 1-2 page mentoring plan to the recommendation letter

Second recommendation letter

 

Should be from a faculty member at Barnard College

A selection committee consists of six representatives, two from Biology, two from Neuroscience and two from Chemistry. Professor Tim Halpin-Healy of the Physics department will also sit on the selection committee.

The Program Director Hilary Callahan is available to answer questions from candidates and mentors about the application process.

hcallahan@barnard.edu
212-854-5405
1007 Altschul
office hours Wed 3:30-5:30

 

Barnard's Beckman Scholars

Amen Wiqas '18 is working with in Professor Rae Silver's lab on the role of mast cells, a type of immune cell, and the effect of zinc, on the normal and pathological function of mammalian brains. Because there are many gender-bias disease pathologies related to the hippocampus, such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS), she is also interested to see whether there are age- and gender-related zinc effects, since mast cells are known to be sensitive to hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. 

Yonina Frim '17 is working in Professor John Glendinning's lab on a study of Type II Diabetes and the role of cephalic-phase insulin release - insulin released as a result of taste stimulation during sugar intake. She is a biology major with goals of earning her MD and PhD in order to be a practicing doctor while conducting scientific research. Yonina was inspired while interning the summer of 2014 at Boston Children's Hospital on a clinical research study for the Boston Center for Endometriosis. There she saw how research and clinical medicine work together to ensure the success of each.

Jenny Lam '18 is a chemistry major working with Professor Christian Rojas,   focusing on synthesizing small sugar molecules to serve as "handles” for larger molecules, aiming to increase their medicinal effectiveness. During a previous summer in the Rojas lab, she tested and optimized catalysts, purified products, and characterize them in molecular detail. As a Beckman Scholar, she will continue these efforts and possibly progress to chemically attaching small molecules with their larger partners.  After earning a Ph.D. in chemistry, Lam's possible careers include toxicology or drug development.

Program Mentors

Individual Mentors’ Qualifications and Plans

Through existing programs that support undergraduate researchers, Barnard provides appropriate training in environmental health and safety, and New York Fire Department regulations. All faculty members in the proposed program have mentored students regularly, and routinely arrange for students to avail themselves of additional necessary training resources, typically at Columbia. These include training in the handling of radioactivity, animals, or blood samples. Additionally, science students benefit from campus-wide resources such as Barnard’s Speaking Fellows Program. Given such existing campus resources, faculty are then able to concentrate on individualized mentoring within their labs.

Faculty Mentors for Biology

Elizabeth Bauer: The Bauer group is exploring the functional relationship between two brain regions that have been implicated in both Pavlovian fear conditioning and anxiety. Examining how conditioned fear and anxiety interact at the neuronal level will increase understanding of the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders. A Beckman Scholar in Dr. Bauer’s lab will use immunohistochemistry techniques analyzed with confocal microscopy, stereotaxic surgery combined with behavioral assays of fear learning and anxiety, and electrophysiology of brain slices. Thus, she will be exposed to some of the more sophisticated techniques used by neuroscientists. Students who work in the lab during the academic year will meet weekly and receive formal training in experimental design, presentation, and writing.

Hilary Callahan: The Callahan group conducts research in ecological genetics and microevolution. Dr. Callahan has extensive experience working with one of biology’s premier genomic models, the annual plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. Since many of Callahan’s projects involve integrated teams of students, she tailors individual projects for each. A Beckman Scholar will work on projects that provide experience in the use of genetic resources such as mapping populations, mutant libraries, and natural genetic variants. She will also help investigate functional ecology and macroevolution in native forests, learning about plant diversity from community, ecosystem, and phylogenetic perspectives. A Beckman Scholar will gain experience working with large data sets, bioinformatics tools, and biostatistics. She will also attend regular lab meetings with other undergraduates, Columbia graduate students, and affiliated postdocs. As she has frequently done in the past, Callahan will mentor scholars in presenting research at college-wide events and at national professional conferences.

John Glendinning: The Glendinning research program is addressing three issues: (1) Human epidemiological studies indicate that when pregnant women drink alcohol, they increase the risk of alcohol abuse by their adolescent children. The Glendinning lab is exploring whether fetal ethanol exposure makes alcohol taste better to adolescents, using rats as a model system; (2) Cancer chemotherapy drugs produce debilitating taste distortions that seriously reduce quality of life. The group is trying to understand the etiology of these taste distortions in rats; and (3) We know that the taste system contributes to the sugar-induced release of insulin from the pancreas, but have no idea how. The group is studying the sensory basis of this phenomenon. A Beckman Scholar will work closely with Dr. Glendinning to make sure she develops the technical skills and conceptual understanding necessary to execute her project competently and independently. She will have regular one-on-one meetings with Glendinning, and contribute to weekly lab meetings. She will also be encouraged to present findings at a professional meeting and prepare her results for publication.

Jennifer Mansfield: The Mansfield lab studies the molecular genetics of musculoskeletal development, focusing on Hox proteins, evolutionarily conserved proteins that direct embryonic cells and tissues to develop into different structures appropriate to their position along the head-to-tail axis of the body. Mutations in Hox proteins cause congenital defects and various cancers; thus a fundamental understanding of their roles is essential. A Beckman Scholar will work with vertebrate models, chick and mouse, to examine and manipulate patterns of Hox and other gene expression, signaling between embryonic tissues, and other factors important for development of the musculoskeletal system, with the goal of characterizing Hox genes’ normal roles. In a second collaborative project, a Beckman Scholar could investigate the functional genomics of chemosensation (taste and smell) in a moth, Manduca sexta.  Students working with mice will complete training at the Columbia Institute for Comparative Medicine. Key goals for a Beckman Scholar in the Mansfield lab will include the development of critical thinking skills, honing knowledge of molecular genetics, and development of core lab skills.

Krista McGuire: The McGuire lab examines how soil microbes respond to anthropogenic changes such as urbanization, agricultural production, and shifting climate. Specifically, research is focusing on tropical forest ecosystems in Malaysia and Puerto Rico and evaluating how human land use alters soil microbial composition and function. In New York City, the group has local field sites to investigate the role of soil microbes in enhancing the performance of green infrastructure and to gain insight into how microbes respond to urbanization. A Beckman Scholar participating in the lab will gain both field and laboratory skills and participate in the entire scientific process, from sample collection to data analysis. She will also participate in the writing of any manuscripts that come from her research. Throughout their time in the lab, Dr. McGuire will work closely with Scholars to improve their skills in areas in which they are weak and to encourage them to pursue career paths that make use of their strengths. 

Faculty Mentors for Chemistry

Marisa Buzzeo (Barnard ‘01): The Buzzeo group employs electrochemical methods to study biological constructs that are capable of using electron transfer as a form of communication with an interest in exploring fundamental questions about electron-transfer as well as developing optimized biosensors that take advantage of this rich class of reactions. A Beckman Scholar would engage in one of two projects: (1) electrochemical characterization of the selenocysteine / selenocystine redox couple; or (2) development of an electrochemical microRNA biosensor. Both projects will expose a Scholar to topics and experimental techniques not traditionally taught in the undergraduate curriculum. Clear expectations will be established through a written contract, and ongoing workshops on topics such as scientific presentation skills, graduate school applications, and career paths will be provided. The Scholar will be responsible for maintaining an accurate laboratory notebook as well as presenting her results in weekly group meetings. At the end of each summer and academic semester, the Scholar will submit a written report, which will include a full analysis of progress made to date and a proposal of future studies. The Scholar will present her research findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Dina Merrer: The Merrer group elucidates the mechanisms of chemical reactions that release a sizeable amount of energy over low or nonexistent activation barriers.  Specifically, the group studies intermolecular reactions of short-lived organic intermediates called carbenes with substrates containing strained C-C pi bonds.  Knowledge of the mechanisms and energy transfer of these reactions may be useful to scientists and engineers in other disciplines, particularly those who desire to harness energy released in chemical reactions, generally, for new energy sources.
A Beckman Scholar in the Merrer lab will learn to:  (a) search and read the primary chemical literature, (b) design and carry out her own experiments, (c) interpret results using instrumental methods (NMR, IR, GC/MS, UV-Vis), (d) use modern computational tools, (e) present her results orally in weekly group meetings and in formal written reports, and (f) present her work annually at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society and biennially at the Reaction Mechanisms Conference, a specialized conference of approximately 150 physical organic chemists that also features sessions specifically oriented towards undergraduates. Additionally, the proposed research is projected to produce 1-2 publications in a top peer-reviewed organic chemistry journal (e.g., Organic Letters, Journal of Organic Chemistry), and the Scholar will play a key role in preparing the manuscript(s) for submission.

Christian Rojas: The Rojas group is undertaking a synthetic organic chemistry research program directed toward the preparation of amino sugars having biological and medicinal activity.  The group seeks both to develop new methods for the incorporation of nitrogen functionality within carbohydrate frameworks and to apply those routes for the synthesis of versatile building blocks that can be incorporated into more complex structures.  A Beckman Scholar will participate in all aspects of the Rojas group research, including planning, setting up, and running the necessary organic reactions; analyzing the reaction mixtures to determine product ratios and stereoselectivity; purifying the products; and characterizing the resulting compounds via a suite of spectroscopic and analytical techniques, such as 1- and 2-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, infrared (IR) spectroscopy, high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS), and elemental analysis.  Dr. Rojas is also in the early stages of establishing a collaboration with Professor Jon Thorson’s group at the University of Kentucky to study glycodiversification applications of compounds, and a Beckman Scholar would be involved in that effort. Many undergraduate researchers in the Rojas group have gone on to graduate programs in chemistry at such institutions as UC Berkeley, Yale University, and Caltech, and have received national awards including NSF Predoctoral Fellowships and summer funding from the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry.

Faculty Mentors for Neuroscience & Behavior

Peter Balsam: The Balsam lab seeks to understand how animals use temporal information to solve problems in flexible ways. Ongoing projects investigate the way that time is perceived, encoded, and retrieved by animals and how this information guides their decisions about whether, when, and how to respond. More than 150 students have been mentored in the Balsam laboratories at Barnard College as well as the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), which is part of the Columbia University Psychiatry Department.  During the first weeks in the Balsam lab, a Beckman Scholar will co-develop mutual expectations about time and work commitments and receive training on lab safety and requirements for IACUC. A skills assessment will identify strengths as well as potential areas for future training.  Publications and presentations will be expected from Beckman Scholars, and ongoing guidance will be provided in the preparation of manuscripts and conference presentations.

Robert Remez: The Remez group aims to develop an empirical description and a principled account of the perceptual organization of speech. This perceptual function establishes the sensory coherence of the speech signal despite its acoustic diversity and complexity. The project develops original measures of perception and refines the empirical description of the perceptual organization of speech. The project also calibrates the enhancement of speech perception brought about by familiarity with a specific individual talker. Overall, the results of these empirical projects are a necessary prelude to formal and neurobiological characterization of the cognitive resources that insure the perceptual stability of spoken communication in natural environments. During a Beckman Scholar’s first year in the Remez lab, the technical practices will be taught by a team that includes the faculty, laboratory technician (supported by NIH), and senior students in a blend of cascade and group mentoring. By the conclusion of her first year, a Scholar will have attended guest lectures at the Columbia University Seminar on Language and Cognition (chaired by Remez) and been introduced to senior and junior scientists visiting the lab. Results will be reported at a national meeting preliminary to a written submission for publication. A Scholar’s career aspirations will also govern mentoring, with guidance regarding appropriate applications, personal statements, mock interviews, and critical features of professional comportment.

Russell Romeo: The Romeo group examines the changes in psychological and neurophysiological function that occur during adolescence. These studies explore how exposure to stressful experiences affects development and influences short- and long-term mental and physical health.  Most broadly, research is directed at understanding how internal and external stimuli shape the structure and function of the nervous system during sensitive periods of maturation.  A Beckman Scholar working in the laboratory will be involved at each stage of her research experience, from producing, recording and analyzing data to participating in the dissemination of the results through presentations at national conferences, and ultimately peer-reviewed publications. Since 5-6 students are engaged in research in Dr. Romeo’s laboratory in any given semester, it is common for “senior” undergraduate students with greater levels of experience and training to help “junior” undergraduate students with parts of their projects.  These collaborations have created great camaraderie among the students, while often affording them a chance to get involved in multiple projects, and a Beckman Scholar will benefit from this experience. Dr. Romeo holds bi-weekly lab meetings, at which researchers briefly present what they have been working on; individual meetings are scheduled for more informal discussions about research, coursework, and future plans.

Rae Silver: In all mammals, the brain’s daily master “clock” lies in a small hypothalamic area called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The ~20,000 individual cells of this tissue each have a molecular 24-hour clock, and this is true of most other cells of the body. Unlike the other clocks however, the brain clock is unique in that it coordinates daily changes throughout the rest of the body. Unknown is how the individual cells of this brain clock work together to produce this master clock function.  Importantly, this system is an excellent model for studies of brain networks because clock function can be studied at various time scales (minutes hours days) and levels (within cells, in the nucleus as a whole and at the level of physiology and behavior). The use of computer-based statistical tools for computational analysis of massive data sets to track temporal changes in bioluminescence of specific clock genes and proteins in many cells, along with classical single cell tracing studies of clocks in normal and mutant animals, will reveal how this daily clock achieves its function. A Beckman Scholar in the Silver lab will learn to perform computer programming using Mathematica or other modeling software, as well as various staining and testing techniques to explore questions about the brain and behavior. She will be expected to join numerous students from the Silver lab who have co-authored journal articles.