Undergraduate Academic Affairs

September 30, 2023

Undergraduates immersed in summer STEM research

Danielle Marie Holland

When you think of summer as an undergraduate, you’re probably envisioning relaxing by the pool, catching up on much-needed sleep or working long hours at a summer job. But have you considered spending your summer in a STEM research lab?

The University of Washington’s Office of Undergraduate Research hosts a variety of programming and partner programs every summer to give students the chance to immerse themselves in STEM research opportunities. From SCAN Design Innovations in Pain Research to the Institute for Protein Design to the Molecular Engineering Materials Center, undergrads from the UW and beyond come together to explore a range of exciting STEM fields.

Photo of the STEM summer research symposium

Students presented their summer research at the Summer STEM Research Symposium.Photo by David Ryder

The Office of Undergraduate Research, formerly known as the Undergraduate Research Program, creates successful summer research experiences for each student by managing program logistics, providing undergrads with mentorship and supporting a thriving  research community. Students participate in weekly seminars organized by staff and present their work in a final poster session open to the public.

Photo of Andres Ardon

Andres Ardon presents his poster at the Summer STEM Research Symposium.

Andres Ardon is a visiting senior from Guatemala majoring in biochemistry. A participant of the Institute for Protein Design, he spent his summer focusing on de novo design of DNA-binding proteins. “I think these technologies will revolutionize medicine by making cheaper and more potent therapeutics and diagnostics,” said Ardon.  A former biosecurity fellow at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and current Project Head at iGEM Community, Ardon was drawn to this project as it aligns with his goal to “help shape the world as it should be — more compassionate, more sustainable and more just.”

Ardon shared that he gained a transformative shift in his perspective on science from the summer program, along with the added benefit of discovering the beauty of a Seattle summer. “This internship provided me with the chance to work at a world-class research facility, where I had the privilege of meeting authors whose works I have admired for an extensive period.” Ardon said his horizons have been broadened from seeing science through a new lens. “The Institute for Protein Design proved to be a hub of innovation and collaboration, full of people who are not only inventive but also very kind. Witnessing their dedication to devising imaginative solutions for some of the world’s most pressing issues has been truly inspiring,” he said.

Photo of Priya Christenesen

Priya Christenesen presents her poster at the Summer STEM Research Symposium.Photo by David Ryder

Priya Christenesen, ‘25, double majoring in global health and biochemistry, continued her vaccine research of the past academic year by working in the King Lab with the Institute for Protein Design. “Being able to dedicate the full 40 hours a week to my project has not only taken the project so much further but has made me a more confident scientist by learning how to ask the questions necessary for innovation and polishing my wet lab skills,” said Christenesen of her summer experience.

Through one-on-one mentorship and facilitated group meetings, undergraduates not only gain independence but deeper insight into the scientific process. “The IPD hosted multiple lab group meetings throughout the week allowing me to learn from graduate students and postdocs, as well as happy hours and lab lunches that allowed me to closely connect with grad students,” shared Christenesen. “Now I feel comfortable asking questions of people, and I now know who to ask because I’m more familiar with their work. It has been revolutionary for me personally.”

Photo of Dylan Clark explaining his research

Dylan Clark explains his research at the STEM Summer Research Symposium.Photo by David Ryder

Sharing a similar impact  from the summer seminars, Honors student double majoring in molecular biology and philosophy, Dylan Clark, said, “I’ve loved the seminars. They’re really open to answering questions from ‘’what happens if you feel burned out,’ to ‘what happens if you’re worried about the pay as a graduate student?’” Clark shared that the summer research experience taught him to trust himself, “I think a lot of people can think that they don’t know enough or that they need to be an expert before they even start research,” he said. “But the whole point of research is that you’re answering questions that no one knows.”

Photo of Deserée Lai

Deserée Lai presents her summer research at the Summer STEM Research Symposium.Photo by David Ryder

Deserée Lai, a rising junior pursuing physics, will be transferring to the UW from North Seattle College. Lai used her time in the Clean Energy Bridge to Research (CEBR) to maximize understanding the different programs available at the UW. Creating community connections was a vital component of the summer experience for her, “It’s been a really great window into the research environment.” From getting to learn about the graduate school experience, working alongside graduate students, and having the space to network and ask questions, Lai has been able to explore new pathways as she moves forward in pursuing research. “I have learned that a strong support network and community is central to my success. My summer research experience has allowed me to begin building these now.”


To learn more about undergraduate research at the University of Washington, visit the Office of Undergraduate Research.