Undergrad research introduces students to the life sciences

LSSF Undergraduate Research Symposium winners

Earlier this month, more than 200 life sciences undergraduate faculty members and students from all across southern Florida judged or presented their original research at the Life Sciences South Florida (LSSF) Annual Research Symposium.

Gretel Arcia Gonzalez

Hosted by Palm Beach State College (PBSC), the fifth symposium was largest yet, with student participants from many LSSF member institutions, including  FIU, FAU, Miami Dade College, Nova Southeastern University, Indian River State College, Broward College, St. Thomas University, Palm Beach State College, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Memorial University, Barry University and the University of Miami.

Students also learned about the birth of the life sciences industry in South Florida, now considered a hub for life sciences across the nation. They were joined by Palm Beach State College (PBSC) President Ava Parker, FIU Vice President for Engagement Saif Y. Ishoof, long-time Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus, and Scripps Florida scientist Brian Paegel.

LSSF is the largest consortium of its kind with more than 20 members. The group was created to meet the demands of the state of Florida, which is home to the nation’s second largest medical device manufacturing industry; third largest pharmaceuticals manufacturing industry; and seventh largest biotech R&D industry.

In addition, student members of StartUP FIU’s second cohort presented to local researchers and companies on their company and product ideas.

Members of StartUP FIU’s second cohort

“LSSF Undergraduate Research Symposium demonstrated that our region is rich with next level life sciences talent amongst our undergraduates,” said Ishoof, who oversees the programmatic aspects of LSSF. “LSSF member institutions believe that by super-connecting our unbelievable talent with research and innovation opportunities, we can prepare our students, faculty and region to define the next wave of disruption.”

In recent years, undergraduate research has become vital for the growth of the life sciences industry in the region. It is also essential for students who want to pursue a career in the sciences.

According to the National Science Foundation, 72 percent of recent graduates had some research experience. In environmental science, the study found, 74 percent of undergraduates had research experience.

“Our undergraduate students are an integral element of the life sciences community,” said Parker. “Without them, South Florida would not have the infrastructure pipeline for a robust research community.”

Gretel Arcia Gonzalez, a student in FIU’s Department of Biological Sciences and a member of Advanced Research and Creativity in the FIU Honors College, says undergraduate research and participating in conferences is essential for her future career in forensic science. This is why she made the trip to PBSC to present her research on canine DNA profiling for forensics.

“It was important for me to come network, present and see what other students across the region are doing,” Gonzalez said. “The connections I make here will help me better my research and will also help me when I begin applying to grad school.”