Teen Research Programs Help Students Find Their Path to a Career in Science

February 8, 2024

Imagine visiting a world-class research laboratory. A scientist shows you tools and lab equipment, explaining how they put them to use, conducting cutting-edge scientific research into topics like gene editing or artificial intelligence. Exposure to a working laboratory is a privileged and promising experience, and it’s one that can spark a lifelong interest in science. Through our Teen Research Programs, a socio-economically diverse group of Bay Area middle and high school students visit labs, kindle their curiosity, and discover that they, too, can pursue a degree or career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM)!

“Meeting people who actually worked in the field, pursuing their interests opened my eyes to the possibilities.”

Teen Research Program participant

The Lawrence’s Teen Research Programs offer a unique window into the reality of being a scientist at one of the world’s top research universities. Participants learn science concepts for one week during the summer, conduct research, and forge connections with mentors and fellow teens interested in science. A residential add-on is available for students wishing to fully immerse themselves in the college experience, demystifying life on a college campus for prospective students who may have little to no experience with science or college.

“Based on current research and our own deep experiences with running teen STEM programs, we know that effective practice to support teens in STEM career pathways requires some fundamental elements,” said The Lawrence’s Head of Teen Research Experiences Emily Weiss. “Teens need to see the relevance of science to their lives and communities, be exposed to a range of STEM careers and pathways, develop a sense of belonging in the sciences, see themselves as a STEM person with the capacity to be successful even when hurdles appear, and be able to envision themselves in a college and STEM career environment.”

Our programs are designed with these critical developmental stages to instill skills and confidence that will give students a leg up on their path to a degree and career in STEM. Take our Science of Social Media program, based on a college course designed by Nobel Laureate Dr. Saul Perlmutter. Examining the ethics and impact of social media connects a lesser-known field of science to a concrete part of students’ daily lives. They learn practices and methods to develop their own scientific study, following their curiosity and discovering they can conduct research.

Our partnerships with UC Berkeley labs and scientists are core to fostering success for Teen Research participants. Our faculty partners open their labs and share their educational stories, showing teens that there are many pathways to a career in science. They also provide highly qualified students to teach our programs so that teens learn about cutting-edge STEM research from people who are actually working on it. These mentors provide excellent examples of the many ways to succeed in science.

“I love teaching Teen Research Programs with The Lawrence,” said Dr. Emlen Metz, a postdoctoral scholar who taught the Science of Social Media course. “They got super into my favorite parts [of conducting research]. It was amazing to see teens thinking so critically about the powers and limitations of different ways of measuring human attitudes.”

Teen Research participants discuss science and college life with Dr. Emlen Metz
Teen Research participants discuss science and college life with Dr. Emlen Metz

The result is a group of confident, curious teens who see themselves as STEM people capable of embarking on a path to a career in science. By engaging with mentors and experiencing life as a scientist on a college campus, Teen Research Program participants gain a deep understanding of what it takes to pursue a degree and develop a sense that they belong.

“Meeting people who actually worked in the field, pursuing their interests opened my eyes to the possibilities,” said one Teen Research Program participant. “I also learned what a Ph.D. thesis project looks like, and it gave me an idea of how much education I may want to pursue.”

“I used to doubt myself a lot in labs and STEM classes because I take more time to understand science and math,” said another participant. “However, thanks to this program I feel more confident in my abilities and trusting myself to succeed.”

Increasing access to quality learning experiences for students of all backgrounds is a core objective of Teen Research Programs and The Lawrence as a whole. Teen Research Programs are offered at two different price points, with a subsidized option available for families facing financial hardship. Need-based financial aid is also available, covering up to 100% of the cost. 

While a degree or career in STEM might not be right for everyone, anyone can be a scientist. Teen Research Programs are proof that connecting with mentors and conducting real scientific research builds confidence and prepares teens for college and beyond. Registration is now open for Summer 2024. We can’t wait to explore and discover with future scientists at UC Berkeley!

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