The MHDI Summer Research Program Experience

The MHDI Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) is a part of the broader UNL Summer Research Program (SRP) that’s held every summer.  This NSF-funded research experience has hosted students from many different universities across the country, with students from many different disciplines. MHDI is the only REU in the Summer Research Program that offers research experiences in social sciences and communication studies.

The program aims to reduce minority health disparities by using social network analysis. Most students enter the program with little to no experience with social networks, so an introduction to network science is given during the first two weeks of the 10-week program. This two week course, which serves as a semester-long introduction to social networks, is taught by professor Kirk Dombrowski, the Principal Investigator of the REU grant as well as UNL’s Minority Health Disparities Initiative.

Following completion of the networks class, students work independently with the mentor that was assigned to them at the beginning of the summer. Mentors for the program include graduate students and faculty in Sociology, Psychology, Communication Studies, Agricultural Economics, and UNL’s Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools (CYFS). Some mentors work with multiple students in the program while others only work with one. For instance, this last year, Dr. Dombrowski served as a mentor for six of our fourteen undergraduate students.

Because most of the mentors in the program don’t have a background in social network analysis, Dr. Dombrowski continues working with the entire group of students, holding weekly meetings to help with analysis and to make sure progress is being made towards a final product. This final product is a professional research poster that students present at the annual Summer Research Symposium on the last day of the program. All students in the Summer Research Program travel back home the day after the symposium, though many continue to work with their mentors and other students in the program long after leaving the University of Nebraska. Students have the option to present their poster at different academic conferences and many students push to publish a paper with the work that they have done over the summer.

The program is an excellent experience for students that are looking for hands-on research experience. Though the work can be challenging, students find it very rewarding both professionally and personally. In addition to the actual research, students build personal and professional relationships; they attend seminars on research ethics, applying to graduate school, and taking the GRE; and they have fun, taking part in picnics, badminton tournaments, scavenger hunts, and many other non-academic activities. In short, though our REU is a summer research experience, it’s about much more than that.

Anyone who is interested in the program is suggested to apply in the spring. Though selection is competitive, the program is more than worthwhile, offering benefits far beyond the research experience. More information on the specifics of the program and different deadlines can be found at http://mhdi.unl.edu/mhdi-srp or http://www.unl.edu/summerprogram/health. Other questions can be directed to our program coordinator, Kim Gocchi Carrasco, at kstarlin2@unl.edu.

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