Understanding the Rules of Life

Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates

Our summer undergraduate research program gives students from across the U.S. the chance to take part in exciting, cutting edge research activities to match their interests from a broad spectrum of biology. The program is made possible by proceeds from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.

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The program takes place in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University at Buffalo. It is an 8-week summer program in which students work alongside a faculty mentor on a research project from one of four research themes:

  • Genome structure, evolution and expression.
  • Neuronal physiology in health and disease.
  • Using model organisms to address human problems.
  • Using fungi to understand cellular processes.

Participants are matched with a faculty mentor who will guide them through the research process. All students participating in the program take part in weekly workshops and social activities aimed at enhancing research skills, informing career decisions and offering networking opportunities.

Program Highlights

  • $5,000 research stipend for participation in the full 8-week program.
  • Free on-campus housing and an $800 allowance for meals during the program.
  • Up to $800 towards travel expenses to and from Buffalo.
  • Full-time research experience with hands-on training.
  • Professional development activities and training.
  • Eligibility to apply for funds to support attendance at a professional research conference after completing the program.


Applicants should be:

  • Interested in pursuing a career in research.
  • U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions.
  • Preparing to enter their sophomore, junior or senior year at the time of the program in an undergraduate degree program with a focus in the biological sciences.

Minorities underrepresented in STEM, first generation college students and students attending non-research focused institutions are especially strongly encouraged to apply. No prior research experience is required.

Faculty Mentors and Research Themes

Paul Cullen

Themes: Genome structure evolution and expression; Using fungi to understand cellular processes; Using model organisms to address human problems.

Paul Cullen's students will study microbiology, genetics, and molecular biology approaches to learn about the regulation of a specific developmental response in yeast called filamentous growth. Based on the student's interest, a project will be developed to understand how biochemical regulatory pathways, including signal transducing pathways, control changes to cell shape, polarity, and adhesion in this genetic system. Diverse approaches can be taken to address this problem based on the student's interests, expertise, and questions posed.

Denise Ferkey

Themes: Neuronal physiology in health and disease; Using model organisms to address human problems.

Denise Ferkey's students will learn genetic, molecular, behavioral and computational approaches to understanding how animals sense chemical stimuli (odorants and tastants) in their environment.  Using a large set of wild C. elegans strains, students will examine natural variation in chemosensory behaviors between geographically and reproductively isolated populations of C. elegans to help inform our understanding of how nervous system function is influenced by genotype and environment.

Steve Free

Themes: Using fungi to understand cellular processes

Steve Free's student projects will focus on the topic of fungal cell wall formation. The fungal cell wall structure is unique to the fungi and an excellent target for the development of anti-fungal agents. Students will investigate how cell wall glycoproteins are incorporated into the wall structure, how these glycoproteins function within the wall, and how their activities are controlled.

Omer Gokcumen

Themes: Genome structure evolution and expression
Omer Gokcumen's students will be able to choose from a range of projects including:

  1. Bioinformatics/phylogenetic analyses of specific genes to understand their evolutionary history and functional impact in humans.
  2. Conducting PCR or digital PCR based genotyping of gene duplications across species or among populations.
  3. Conducting genome extraction and analysis from different species.

Shermali Gunawardena

Themes: Neuronal physiology in health and disease; Using model organisms to address human problems.

Shermali Gunawardena's students will gain hands-on experience using Drosophila genetics, in vivo imaging coupled with cell biological tools to examine mechanisms of intracellular transport within neurons and how this pathway is disrupted in human neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's disease.

Trevor Krabbenhoft

Themes: Genome structure evolution and expression.

Trevor Krabbenhoft's student projects are focused on fish evolutionary and ecological genomics. Students will have the opportunity to use both web lab (DNA or RNA sequencing) and dry lab (bioinformatic analysis) techniques.

Laura Rusche

Themes: Genome structure evolution and expression; Using fungi to understand cellular processes.

Current work in the Rusche lab uses multiple yeast species to explore how organisms evolve new, adaptive responses to low-nutrient stress. The summer REU student will identify genes induced when the metabolite NAD+ is low. Laboratory techniques will include standard molecular biology approaches, yeast genome editing, and analysis of genome-wide sequencing data.

Sarah Walker

Themes: Genome structure evolution and expression; Using fungi to understand cellular processes; Using model organisms to address human problems.

Sarah Walker's students will address how yeast adapt their protein synthesis programs to combat changes in cellular environment. The lab studies mRNA control in yeast and mouse models for breast cancer in an effort to combat human disease. Students will use molecular biology, biochemistry, next generation sequencing, and biophysical techniques to address these microbiological questions.

Zhen Wang

Themes: Using model organisms to solve human problems.

Zhen Wang's summer students may choose between projects aimed at identifying genes responsible for the biosynthesis of digoxin, a heart medicine, in foxglove plants, and projects aimed at developing a microbial system for optimized production of valuable terpenoids.

Matthew Xu Friedman

Themes: Neuronal physiology in health and disease; Using model organisms to address human problems.

Matthew Xu Friedman's summer student will take on a project that addresses the role of protein arginine methylation in regulating eukaryotic gene expression. They will learn to implement a combination of molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics approaches to accomplish this project. In addition, the student will learn how to read scientific literature, participate in group discussion, and practice giving scientific presentations.

Application procedure

  1. Complete the online application form
  2. Upload a current transcript to your online application (unofficial transcripts are acceptable)
  3. Provide contact details for at least one referee from your current college/university facility who has agreed to write a letter of recommendation for you. They will be sent information on how to provide their letter once you submit your online application.
  4. Upload your resume to the online application. Your resume should include 1) all post-secondary educational institutions attended with dates, (2) research and teaching experience or other university or science activities (prior research experience is not a requirement), and (3) any other information thought to be relevant to the application.
  5. Upload your personal statement. Personal statements should describe academic and research goals and long-term career objectives. Applicants should clearly articulate what they hope to get out of the program and how they believe the program will help them reach their short- and long-term goals. Personal statements should be no more than 1000 words.
  6. State up to three faculty mentors that you would be interested in working with.

Applications must be received by 5:00 p.m. on January 30, 2022, for full consideration for first round offers for the summer 2022 program. Applications received after that deadline may still be considered but will be placed on a wait-list.

Project timeline

  • Sep 1, 2021: Call for Applications, accepted for Summer 2022.
  • Jan 30, 2022: Initial application deadline.
  • Mid-Feb, 2022: Successful applicants are offered positions and/or waitlisted.
  • March 15, 2022: Deadline to accept a position.
  • June 10 – 12, 2022: Arrive in Buffalo (housing available).
  • June 13 – Aug 5, 2022: Project term, 8-week research experience.
  • Aug 5, 2022: Research symposium and end of program.



Any questions about the program should be directed to the program coordinator, Dr. Heather Williams hw49@buffalo.edu