Exploring the Mayo Clinic Undergraduate Research Experience

9/26/2023 9:08:40 AM Hannah Wirth

Each year, Mayo Clinic invites approximately 180 undergraduate students from across the nation to participate in their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, which provides undergraduates the opportunity to work at the forefront of biomedical research at one of the world’s leading medical centers. As part of the longstanding Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance, Mayo Clinic reserves seven spots each year for University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students, who are chosen by the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance preselection committee. This year, 10 outstanding Illinois undergrads were selected to participate in the 2023 SURF program. Over the past 14 years, 118 Illinois undergraduate students have participated in this unique research opportunity at Mayo Clinic.

Established in 2023, the new Health Equity Research Experience (HERE) at Mayo Clinic was a pilot program for Illinois undergrads to conduct health equity research in a biomedical setting. The inaugural HERE cohort joined a community of other undergraduates at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL over the summer. 

The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute and the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance are proud to witness these students’ accomplishments as they apply the combined knowledge and experience gained from their time at two world-class research institutions.

The 2023 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows & Health Equity Research Experience cohorts
The 2023 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows & Health Equity Research Experience cohort

The Summer Experience

For 10 weeks this summer, the SURF and HERE cohorts worked in the laboratories of Mayo Clinic faculty on small research projects or as part of ongoing investigations, attended weekly seminars, and tested their inclinations toward a career in biomedical research. The fellows learned to appreciate the value of mentorship, gained real-world research insight working with top-notch scientists in modern facilities, and connected with peers from across the country.

“I was able to work on a project and get exposure to different research areas in medical imaging. I was able to hear from people working on different kinds of projects and talked to people on the industry side of research as well,” said 2023 SURF Katerina Baxter. “Being at Mayo Clinic and seeing how the research there translates to clinical practice was something I had not been able to experience at Illinois.”

The summer experience at Mayo Clinic allowed the fellows to explore a variety of career paths in both research and medicine while gaining experience in experimental design, science communication, and laboratory techniques. The experience also helped them determine next steps in their academic careers. 

“I wanted to experience what it was like to do full-time research in order to better understand my career goals,” said 2023 SURF Alicia Kim. “I really appreciated that my lab gave me my own self-guided project, as it was a very realistic and intensive experience.”

The Poster Sessions

The 2023 SURF & HERE Poster Session
The 2023 SURF & HERE Poster Session at the Beckman Institute

While at Mayo Clinic, the HERE and SURF fellows participated in a poster session. 2023 SURF Dajana Duci described it as one of the most memorable experiences during the program.

“Communicating my research to Mayo physicians and scientists was the first time I was able to feel like a small, but genuine part of the scientific community,” said Duci.  

On September 11, a poster session was held in the Beckman Institute Atrium for both the 2023 Illinois SURF and HERE cohorts. Attendees had the opportunity to meet the fellows and learn more about their Mayo Clinic research projects. The poster session was followed by a recognition ceremony.

Future Programs

2023 HERE fellow Brandon Snipe presents at the Beckman Institute
2023 HERE fellow Brandon Snipe presents at the Beckman Institute

As the 2023 SURF and HERE programs ended, fellows from both cohorts shared why they applied to their respective programs, the impact of the experience on their academic and career goals, memorable experiences both inside and outside their work at Mayo Clinic, and advice for future program participants. To view photos and learn what the fellows had to say about their summer undergraduate research experience at Mayo Clinic, watch the video.

Illinois undergraduates interested in the 2024 SURF program may apply for preselection by Nov. 6. Selected applicants are awarded $6,000 to cover living expenses during the program. Information about the next HERE application period is coming soon. Visit the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance website and contact LeaAnn Carson at lcarson@illinois.edu with questions. 

For more Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance news, subscribe to the Alliance mailing list. To learn more about the opportunities that the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance has for Illinois students and trainees, sign up for program notifications.