May 14, 2021

The summer that students will never forget

Kyra Chism’s days in the lab were numbered.

It was April 2021, and the rising senior at the University of Georgia had been working for seven months inside the lab of GRA Eminent Scholar Art Edison. She was part of a team looking for clues as to how a worm, C. elegans, is able to remove toxins from a small molecule inside a menacing microbe. 

With the end of the semester approaching, Kyra was winding down her experiments. Her plans for the summer had not taken form beyond “spending time relaxing in my apartment in Athens.”

Then an email arrived from Edison: A program was being piloted to encourage more minority students who are underrepresented in science and engineering to pursue or continue scientific research. Would she be interested in extending her work with Edison’s team?

“I said absolutely,” Kyra says, laughing. “I mean, this was a great opportunity.”

The pilot program is called GRA Student Scholars, which makes it possible for 10 of Georgia’s university students to work alongside some of the state’s most brilliant scientists and engineers. Kyra and others were selected to be in the inaugural class in summer 2021. GRA is providing compensation and funds to cover supplies and travel to a scientific conference or workshop.

“The program is part of a larger effort by the Academy of GRA Eminent Scholars to strengthen diversity and inclusion in university research,” says GRA President Susan Shows. “Underrepresented students,” she explains, “come from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds, have disabilities or are first-generation college students.”

The need to bring more of these students into research labs is clear. A report released this month by the National Science Foundation, titled Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, presents notes that “underrepresented minorities were awarded 11.7% of science and engineering research doctorates, while making up about a third of both the population and the labor force.”

And according to a 2018 report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities:

In the research workforce, a recent study found that ethnically diverse co-authors produce higher-quality science as measured by journal impact factor and number of citations (Freeman & Huang, 2014). Another study found that journal articles authored by gender-heterogeneous teams were perceived as higher-quality in the peer-review process, and received 34 percent more citations (Campbell, Mehtani, Dozier, & Rinehart, 2013).

Edison, recruited to UGA from Florida in 2015, will host one other student in addition to Kyra in his lab. 

“Kyra is doing so well, we’re planning to put her on a project to analyze samples with the cell manufacturing program we participate in with Georgia Tech,” he says. “Another student, Rockford Watkins, is doing very well with computational analysis. He’ll continue to analyze genes in C. elegans as well as get more NMR training.”

GRA will be following some of the students throughout the summer to share their experiences and perspectives on working in a university lab.