Re-IMAGiNE (Integrating Mechanisms of Adaptation with Genes in Networks and across Environments) Life: An NSF Funded Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates

REU students discuss their research
REU students met weekly with Drs. Olson and McKain to discuss their research progress. Shown are: (left to right) Paige Magid, Miled Maisonet Nieves, Dr. Julie Olson, Willow Neske, Marybeth Slack, Maryam Fields, Mohammed Karim, Dr. Michael McKain, Isaiah Bastien, and Alex Sullivan.

Undergraduate research exposure is not only an important component of a student’s educational development but is also often the experience that stimulates scientific intrigue leading to a career in STEM. With our commitment to exposing students to cutting-edge research in STEM fields and beyond, our faculty are constantly seeking opportunities to enhance undergraduate research experiences. Professor Julie Olson and Assistant Professor Michael McKain recently received a National Science Foundation grant for a summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. REUs provide opportunities for students from different regions to participate in summer research experiences at universities around the country with specialty focus areas.

This REU Site award for $420,873 will support the training of 10 students over 10 weeks during the summers of 2022 – 2024. A total of 30 students, primarily from schools with limited research opportunities or from under-represented groups, will be trained in the program. “This REU program provides research opportunities for students who might otherwise not have this experience and hopefully allows them to share in the excitement of scientific discovery,” said Dr. Olson. Students will learn to conduct research under the guidance of faculty mentors with hands on involvement in one of the mentor’s research projects and will present their results via a poster at the end of the experience. Some students will also have the opportunity to present the results of their work at scientific conferences and contribute to peer-reviewed publications.

“Our faculty embraced the chance to share their research with the REU students and the students have been enjoying learning new techniques, gaining professional development skills, and meeting new people,” said Dr. Olson.

This theme of this REU Site is Re-IMAGiNE Life, Exploring Function through Adaptation and it is geared toward providing students an opportunity to explore the diversity of adaptive strategies found across the tree of life, with additional focus on the network/networking part as the theme for the student professional development. Projects will explore how organisms adapt to biological and environmental stress in fields ranging from freshwater ecology to medical microbiology to evolutionary genomics. Participants will explore all aspects of research, including literature review, research ethics training, experimental design, lab and/or field-based experimentation, data analysis, and presentation of results.

Aside from the direct scientific research experience, other important career skills are developed through seminars demonstrating novel research, field trips to Alabama research centers, and professional development activities promoting diverse science careers.

“As a first generation woman-of-color interested in pursuing the STEM field, this REU program has allowed me to gain hands on experience towards a career in ecological conservation,” said student participant Maryam Fields.

More information on the BSC REU program can be found on our website:

REU students visit Hudson Alpha
The REU participants traveled to Huntsville to tour HudsonAlpha and learn about the facility and their work. Participating were: (left to right) Brittany Jones, Anika Snyder, Miled Maisonet Nieves, Maryam Fields, Marybeth Slack, Paige Magid, Willow Neske, Isaiah Bastien, Mohammed Karim, and Alex Sullivan.