The Research Experience for Peruvian Undergraduates is a peer-organized program that trains and unites the next generation of Peruvian scientists.
Funding for research and support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in Peru is minimal. Young scientists often are forced to take on additional jobs to support themselves and end up pursuing masters and doctoral degrees abroad. To make matters worse, most of these scientists lose their connection to Peruvian scientific networks. The net result: Peru produces only a small number of scientists with graduate or post-graduate training, and many promising students follow other career paths or leave the country, resulting in a Peruvian scientific brain drain.
Many experts underscore the necessity of a concerted effort by international institutions, the national government, the private sector and academia in reversing this trend (1). A commitment from the top is critical for sustained national scientific development. However, efforts from current graduate students and postdoctoral fellows can provide unique help, as they are, in many respects, better suited for reaching and guiding the younger generation of scientists.
With this in mind, in 2007, two Peruvian graduate students at Vanderbilt University and Hospital do Cancer A.C. Camargo launched the Research Experience for Peruvian Undergraduates, a program that seeks to complement Peruvian undergraduate scientific education with a three-month research-intensive internship in laboratories in the United States. REPU aims to establish a strong connection among participants and encourage students to be active in the greater scientific community in Peru and abroad.
The first year
REPU received 16 applications in its first year and was able to invite one student to Vanderbilt University in January 2008 thanks to the support of faculty members Susan Wente and Daniela Drummond-Barbosa. For three months, V. Kenyi Saito-Diaz worked on stem cell regulation in the fly egg chamber in the Drummond-Barbosa lab.
“Kenyi’s visit to our lab was a very positive experience for everyone involved,” recalls Drummond-Barbosa. “We all enjoyed having him in the lab … he showed a lot of interest in the research going on in the lab, he read the literature with enthusiasm, he learned a lot of new experimental procedures, he kept his data organized, and he was always willing and eager to learn new things. It is always a pleasure to work with smart, enthusiastic and motivated students.”
The response to the program in its first year showed that Peruvian students were interested in this type of scientific training and that the U.S. scientific community was willing to help with the initiative. However, it also became apparent that networks for Peruvian undergraduate and graduate science students were minimal. As a result, undergraduate students were not familiar with available training opportunities or the work of Peruvian scientists abroad.