Students Research the Power of the Brain During Summer Program

Duke’s Summer Neuroscience Program enables rising juniors and seniors to conduct a summer of full-time research.

Undergraduate Rebecca Li got the opportunity to focus on individual brain-related projects that could lead to innovative research possibilities in the future.

Rising junior Julia Leeman is fascinated with the brain. As a Duke neuroscience and music major, she has studied the impact of music on memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. She has learned to analyze images of the brain captured with functional magnetic resonance imaging. 

This year, as part of Duke’s Summer Neuroscience Program, Leeman is studying how different syllable and tone combinations in Mandarin Chinese are processed in the brain. 

She says she values the program because it allows students to network with like-minded peers and mentors to form life-long bonds. 

“I chose the Summer Neuroscience Program because I wanted to learn from my peers in neuroscience and form a lasting connection with my research lab,” Leeman says. “As a part of the Summer Neuroscience Program, I am able to invest myself fully in the lab and form strong connections with my mentors.” 

The program is hosted by the university’s department of psychology and neuroscience and sponsored by the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. 

The eight-week program has 17 participants this year. It is designed to support undergraduate students through one-on-one faculty mentorship as the students begin their research for their senior theses. The paid summer program accepts applications from neuroscience majors who are rising juniors and seniors. Applications for the 2023 summer program will open in December. 

Incoming senior Rebecca Li says the program has taught her important lessons, such as how many experiments are not straightforward and involve a lengthy trial-and-error process. 

“The real thing about research that nobody tells you... is that most of the time, your experiments don’t work, and they fail,” Li says. 

Although the process is sometimes frustrating, she says it is helping her form her senior thesis. She hopes to attend medical school after the completion of her undergraduate degree. 

Li says the summer program has also helped her establish more discipline, which is an essential skill to completing her research and growing as a scientist. 

“I think I’m growing a lot,” Li says. “Coming into the lab and having the commitment... every single day is really effective and contributed to my final project. I also like my research experience in general. And having that sort of discipline from the program helps a lot, too.” 

Rising senior Arsha Sharna sees the Summer Neuroscience Program as a path towards her reaching her goals in clinical research and helping patients.