PINC Summer Program 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 9.09.19 PM
(Text and photos by Dr Rori Rohlfs)
The PINC Summer Program trained 15 SFSU undergraduate biology students in computer programming, technical manuscript literacy, scientific presentations, and applied research.  With the guidance of near-peer mentors, the students worked in collaborative teams to learn how to program in either python or R, and then applied their skills to an original scientific research project.  Research topics included

  • Characterizing the Relationships Between Classroom Demographics, Survey Responses & Grades Using R
  • Modeling the evolution of alternative splicing rates
  • Predicting the Evolution of PrEP Resistant HIV
  • Quantifying relationship of google searches and STI rates

The program culminated in the students presenting their computational research projects in the poster session at the SFSU Summer Research Symposium.

Program structure

Students were grouped in teams of 3-5 students based on their weekly availability.  Each student team worked closely with a near-peer mentor 8 hours/week, and under the guidance of a faculty member (or two) who worked directly with the group one hour per week.  The participating students were all busy with classes, work, family care, and other obligations, so students were explicitly expected not to work on the summer program outside of the mentored hours (though some did).

The first 6 weeks, students focused on learning to program through free online courses, reading the scientific literature on their research topic, and practicing presenting to each other.  Some teams also started to play with data or “mini projects” relevant to their ultimate research projects.  The next 2 weeks, students delved into their research, be it simulations or data analysis.  The last week, students created posters representing their research and practiced their presentations. At the end of each week students wrote brief reflections on their experience and evaluations of their progress and the program

We held a weekly all-staff meeting to troubleshoot, respond to weekly student evaluations, and coordinate the ongoing program and projects. To keep the program running smoothly, the mentors and faculty used a slack group for quick daily questions and ongoing updates.  Individual mentors also communicated (via slack or email) frequently with their advising faculty to answer specific programming and research questions.
Each team of a mentor and students organically came up with their own communication structures as well.  Groups chose text, slack, or email to stay in touch.

Program evaluation

Pleuni and I had a great time working with students and mentors and watching their rapid development as programmers over the summer!

We are currently gathering data to understand how the program impacted students skills, motivation, and preparation for careers in science.  Look for a full description soon!


Faculty organizers and advisors: Pleuni Pennings and Rori Rohlfs
Coordinating mentor: Kadie Williams
Near-peer mentors: Sita Chamdrasekaran, Dwayne Evans, Ryan Ferguson, Kimmie Tsui
Contributing faculty advisor: Sepideh Modrek
For pictures of the event, see here.