The Academy’s Summer Systematics Institute (SSI) just concluded its 17th season. SSI provides hands-on research experiences for undergraduates from colleges across the country. This year’s cohort hailed from as far away as Duke and the University of Hawaii, to places next door like the College of San Mateo.
SSI interns engage in a curriculum of lectures and labs that inform about the type of science that is done in a collections-based setting. They also take part in a variety of community-building events and field trips. But most importantly, participants take ownership of and help design a research project in the lab, under the guidance of an Academy mentor. Each year, SSI interns demonstrate their special abilities to launch into a full trajectory from program design, through data-gathering, and then to analysis. The crowning event of the SSI is a presentation at the end of the program by each of the interns to a diverse audience of peers, scientists, and even friends and relatives. These are not just “what I did on my summer vacation,” but full-blown research talks, the likes of which one might see at an international conference of professionals already well-established in their fields. We are fond of saying that by the end of the program, the SSI interns are no longer students. They are colleagues. In fact, they are the world’s experts on their chosen topics of investigation, and their work is, without exception, fully publishable. Many will go on to do just that…publish their findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals, or present them at large meetings such as the annual gathering of the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (which just happens to be in San Francisco this coming January).
Every year, we are astonished how quickly these fantastic interns “get it” about the science we do here. We should all be so lucky to emulate that capacity. It’s what keeps us coming back to the program as advisors, lecturers, and administrators: to see the research lights come on in these fertile minds, and to know that the future of evolutionary biology will be safe in the hands of this next generation of scientists.