The Cellular and Molecular Biology of Stress Summer Research Program

The Cellular and Molecular Biology of Stress Summer Research Program provides immersive, full-time bioscience research and professional development for undergraduate students as they prepare for graduate school and research careers in biology.

2024 Application Status

All applications have been reviewed and offers have been made.

Future Applications

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2024 Program Dates: May 28–Aug 3, 2024

Interested in a research career? Experience the richness of the research environment at a premier research university with this hands-on summer program. You’ll get an invaluable glimpse of what graduate-level study and research careers might entail, while being surrounded by a supportive community of peers and engaged in professional development activities that help add meaning, encourage critical thinking, and allow you to explore and prepare for your future.

The Cellular and Molecular Biology of Stress (CMBS) program is designed for undergraduates who might not otherwise have access to research opportunities. There is no cost for the program and participants receive a stipend, summer housing, health insurance, and travel to and from Madison.

Program participants live on campus and perform full-time research for 10 weeks under the guidance of trained research mentors. Weekly professional development seminars allow participants to learn from each other’s experiences and contextualize their research projects within the overarching theme of how organisms respond to stress. Additional events and activities build community, support career and graduate school exploration, and help students build useful skills, such as science communication. Students present their projects at a poster session and a final symposium and write research reports to summarize their findings.

The Theme: Cellular and Molecular Biology of Stress

Environmental stressors, including both biotic (originating from living organisms such as pathogens) and abiotic (arising from non-living factors such as nutrient availability), constantly shape the adaptive strategies of all life forms. By actively participating in original research, students will explore the intricate mechanisms by which organisms respond and adapt to environmental challenges. Faculty mentors in the program study a variety of biotic and abiotic stresses in diverse organisms, from unicellular microbes to multicellular plants and animals. All the labs are interested in how stresses are detected by cells and organisms, how stress signals are transmitted within cells and organisms, and how targets of the stress signal activate cellular and molecular processes that allow cells and organisms to survive the stress.

  • Strong career interest in biological science research
  • Undergraduate student status for fall 2024
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status
  • Grade point average of at least 3.0 (see Frequently Asked Questions for more info)

The goal of the CMBS program is to provide research opportunities for students who have limited access to research. We realize there are a variety of reasons students may not have access to research, including, but not limited to, attending small colleges (including 2-year colleges) with limited research resources; life experience impacted by historical or social factors; coming from a low-income background with the need to work during the academic year; or being the first in their family to attend college and benefiting from additional support. All students are welcome and encouraged to apply.


The application opens annually on November 1 and closes on February 29.

During the application process you will need to provide:

  • Name and email address for at least one person (faculty member preferred) who will provide a letter of recommendation. Two letters of recommendation are allowed.
  • Electronic version of your college transcript (scanned hard copies if electronic transcripts are not available); unofficial transcripts are acceptable.
  • Four short personal essays (3900 character maximum per essay).
    1. How have your background and life experiences (including cultural, geographical, financial, educational, or other opportunities or challenges) motivated your decision to pursue a summer research opportunity?
    2. How would your participation in a summer research program at UW–Madison contribute to your future goals and career plans?
    3. Which area(s) of research are of interest to you and why?
    4. Although previous research experience is not required to be considered for participation in our summer program, please describe any past research experience. This may include research experiences as part of a course if you do not have any other research experiences.

Selection and Placement

Selection and laboratory placement of students will take place in February, March, and April. Applicants who are not placed will be notified by the beginning of May.


Why should I come to UW-Madison for a summer research program?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has one of the strongest biological research communities in the U.S. It offers graduate training programs in over 40 areas of biological research. Participants report that this program has helped them determine whether graduate school is right for them, check out UW-Madison for grad school, and learn particular research techniques.

What are the dates of the program?

The program will run from May 29-August 2, 2024. Students will arrive in Madison on May 28, 2024 and begin orientation on May 29, 2024. The program will end on August 2, 2024 and students will depart on August 3, 2024.

It is common for students on trimesters or quarters to finish the academic year after the program has begun. We do make exceptions for students who can join the program no later than June 3, 2024. Please email the CMBS Program Director (amber.smith@wisc.edu) to discuss the details of your situation.

Housing costs are covered. What does that mean?

Participants in the summer research program are housed in a residence hall on campus within walking distance of laboratories and State Street (i.e., downtown Madison). Participants from other summer programs are housed in the same building.

I noticed there are other summer research programs at UW-Madison. Can I apply to more than one?

All of the summer research programs at UW-Madison share one application. When you apply, you will rank your choice of up to three programs.

How many students do you accept?

Each year the program accepts 15-30 students into the program from a pool of about 350 applicants. The size of the program is contingent upon funding.

Who is eligible to participate in the program?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is committed to supporting Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs like CMBS to broaden access to high-quality, immersive research experiences. Students who have not had access to research opportunities for any reason (e.g., small home institution, impact from historical or social factors, lack or resources) are encouraged to apply.

My grade point average isn’t quite 3.0. Should I apply anyway?

We review applications holistically and occasionally accept students whose GPAs are less than 3.0. Please share in your essay the steps you are taking to increase your GPA and highlight other skills and experiences that you believe will support your success in the program.

I’m a UW-Madison student. Can I apply to the program?

Yes, but preference may be given to students without access to research opportunities, depending on funding requirements and other considerations.

How are applications reviewed?

An initial screen of applicants is made by program staff. Files from strong applicants are forwarded to faculty mentors based on research interests expressed by students in their applications. Each mentor reviews the applications and determines which student(s) they would like to meet (virtually). If both the mentor and student agree there is a good fit, the CMBS program director will send a formal offer to the student.

Can I enroll in summer school or have a job while participating in the program?

No. Participants do research full-time (40 hr/week). The idea is to enjoy an intensive research experience when you are freed from the schedules and obligations of coursework or a job.


“I’ve seen myself grow in a number of ways, and that includes being able to ask really important or really interesting scientific questions….I think that this will be an experience that I will not forget in terms of science research. It’s been one of the best.”

–Rachel Joo, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum


“I didn’t expect to be so attached to this place. But I’ve gotten so attached to [Madison] because there’s so much to do. And everyone has been amazing to me here. And the research has also been amazing….I’ve also learned so much about career paths I can take. I’ve made friends with so many people here….So I just I love this place a lot. And I would not trade this experience for anything.”

–Danielle Amaegbo, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum


“Since this is my first time doing summer research, I didn’t really know what to expect. But now that I’m here, I’m motivated to do it again….Don’t be afraid of not having experience. I thought maybe because I didn’t have much under my sleeve, that I wouldn’t be a good candidate. But this is exactly what this program is for. It’s for us to come and get the experience and learn.”

–Kiara Gómez, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum


“We have learned so much about how to write papers, so much about how to do research, so much about different career paths. And they really, really are fully invested in shaping us into really great scientists and giving us all these tools that we can use.”

–Carolyn Ruiz, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum


“I think I’ve made pretty good friends here because you are all very like-minded individuals where you’re all very interested in research and you hope to do something positive with that in the future. We bond over that and we’ve made good connections.”

–Janice Tran, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum


“I think this program is a huge opportunity. Because it’s not just how to do experiments in your lab, it’s the whole process of being part of research, and how to deal with feedback, how to have support with your mentor, how to write a paper, or do a poster session, how to present….I see it as a good opportunity for students to take.”

–Yaretzi Martinez, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum


“I had great mentors who knew exactly how to push me for growth while showing nothing but kindness and encouragement.”

–2022 Summer Research Program Alum


“This research experience helped me to understand how everyday research work is like and opened my horizons for possible careers. Therefore, I am applying for a Ph.D. this fall.”

–2022 Summer Research Program Alum


“I believe that this experience led me to understand my true passions in grad school….I am quite excited to pursue the options ahead of me. I also think the program allowed me to explore the type of relationships I hope to have with future mentors.

I made gains in my ability to collaborate with other scientists. My lab strongly encourages collaboration….I have realized that a community exists that does care about my work and is willing to help me see that my goals become reality.”

–2022 Summer Research Program Alum


“I truly enjoyed every day in lab and now I can actually see myself as a researcher.”

–2022 Summer Research Program Alum


“This research experience confirmed that I am able to conduct research through an independent research project. Now, I feel more confident entering grad school with the skills I have learned.”

–2022 Summer Research Program Alum


“Before this program, I was considering an advanced degree but I had no idea what that meant or how serious I actually was. Now that I know what research can be like on a daily basis and some of the inner politics/aspects of academia, I can make a more informed decision on grad school. I am considering it more strongly now.

I think this research experience grew my confidence to ask for help when I needed it and to be independent even if I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. I have grown in my mental fortitude and ability to adapt to difficulties as well.”

–2022 Summer Research Program Alum

"Since this is my first time doing summer research, I didn’t really know what to expect. But now that I’m here, I’m motivated to do it again....Don’t be afraid of not having experience. I thought maybe because I didn’t have much under my sleeve, that I wouldn’t be a good candidate. But this is exactly what this program is for. It’s for us to come and get the experience and learn."

Kiara Gómez, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum

Info Session Video

Watch this recording for more program details.

 

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"We have learned so much about how to write papers, so much about how to do research, so much about different career paths. And they really, really are fully invested in shaping us into really great scientists and giving us all these tools that we can use."

Carolyn Ruiz, 2023 Summer Research Program Alum

Leadership Team

Amber Smith

Credentials: Ph.D.

Position title: Associate Director of WISCIENCE

Email: amber.smith@wisc.edu

David Wassarman

Credentials: Ph.D.

Position title: Professor of Genetics

Email: dawassarman@wisc.edu

  • Amber Smith, Ph.D., CMBS Program Director, PI (NSF award # 20502567)
  • David Wassarman, Ph.D., Co-PI

Questions? Contact Amber Smith at amber.smith@wisc.edu.

Thank You to Our Funders