Researching the Research Club

The Stuyvesant Research Club is an ambitious, STEM-based club that deserves recognition due to its various programs that strive to aid students interested in the field of research.

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Perhaps the word “research” conjures images of a fancy laboratory, men in lab coats holding clipboards, a wall of mice in containers, and a flickering light that deems inspection. Seldom does the word evoke images of places close to home, like Stuyvesant’s room 703, where high school students conduct experiments on cancer cells and are rewarded with boxes of pizza afterward. The Stuyvesant Research Club brings together students with an interest in research who display innovative skills without a fancy laboratory. Through workshops, lab experiments, and student research publications, the Research Club strives to provide its members with the opportunity to investigate past their textbooks and foster innovation beyond the classroom.

Stuyvesant may have a grueling STEM program, but its classes are mainly geared toward gaining knowledge rather than developing a passion for research. Biology teacher and Research Club faculty advisor Jason Econome took the initiative to foster that passion in the form of the club. Econome also runs the Regeneron Program at Stuyvesant, a class that is devoted to helping students develop research projects to submit to an international competition. For members of the Research Club, scientific research is not only a passion but also a field that is important to explore. “Science research drives progress in society in almost every way [by] improving and extending the life expectancy for generations of people through such monumental discoveries like penicillin, eliminating bacterial infections and recombinant insulin for diabetes sufferers,” Econome said.

By performing real molecular biology-based experiments, talking with senior Regeneron research participants, and learning about free summer research opportunities available citywide, the Research Club gives curious students opportunities to see how biological research is conducted in today's world. One of their experiments used a commonly performed technique in biochemistry called Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). By using ELISA, the members of the Research Club measured antibodies, reaction substances produced in the presence of a specific antigen, to explore the molecular mechanisms underlying diabetes. Another widely used method of measuring the expression of a gene is a microarray. The members of the Research Club measured the expression of different genes in two different types of cells, cancerous cells and non-cancerous cells, by using a microarray. The students were able to measure the different expressions of six genes and their expressions as oncogenes, or tumor suppressors. “We are not just trying to target freshmen that come in [with] no knowledge in biology, but we’re trying to target [...] sophomores, juniors, [and] seniors that are trying to get into labs,” junior and vice president of the Research Club Vice President Ethan Samuel Lin said.

Many of the members are accepted into labs at New York University or Cornell University and submit their research projects to the Regeneron competition. Past members of the Research Club, including alumni Ben Ho and Julian Rubinfien, have successfully placed, respectively, as semi-finalists and winners in the prestigious Genes in Space competition, a national competition in which students design an experiment that, if chosen, is conducted on the International Space Station. “The sort of energy and the passion we see in these members show us [their passion to discover past the classroom and] how dedicated they are,” senior and president of the Research Club Justin Lam said.

The mission doesn’t stop there. With the new addition of a research-based magazine, SIGMA, the members of the Research Club also work diligently to collect, annotate, and print student research. SIGMA is Stuyvesant's sole science research magazine, and it aims to spread other students’ pursuits in research to every student regardless of their grade or knowledge in STEM. “We annotate the [students’ research] papers so that the entire Stuyvesant community is able to completely understand the paper and all of its scientific jargon,” junior and editor-in-chief of SIGMA Neil Sarkar said. “SIGMA is meaningful as not only [are the members] being recognized and honored for their hard work but their research is being disseminated for all the student body to read and gain inspiration from.” The latest publication includes research in the treatment of congestive heart failure in muscular dystrophy and the discovery of two new viruses. Currently, SIGMA is published once a year, but they hope to publish semi-annually. Their first edition this year will be available at the end of February and will be dedicated to celebrating the research of others and accomplishments in science throughout the decade.

The Research Club has also recently implemented a mentoring program known as the Student Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), which aims to aid students interested in pursuing a career in research through focusing on individual research techniques. Lin describes the program as a way to “further hone the skills of a smaller group of students who have expressed a lot of interest in the field of research.” The club conducts biweekly workshops where mentors, experienced upperclassmen, work on a specific skill so that mentees will be able to navigate the process of applying to research programs and labs.

There are, however, a number of obstacles preventing the club from granting its members maximum opportunity: the largest one is a lack of research coordinators. In schools like Hunter College High School, there’s not only one research coordinator but multiple hired faculty members with specialized areas of research to advise students. Stuyvesant, however, has only one teacher who spends his free periods and after school hours managing Regeneron, Stuyvesant’s sole research program. “Regeneron research biology is only run by one person, Mr. Econome. It’s not a job for only one person. It doesn’t make sense that Mr. Econome, one who specializes in cancer biology, can tutor [a student] about protein modeling,” Lam said. Other students report the same struggle. “I wanted my project [geared] towards physics, not really biology. I didn’t get many opportunities to do that,” senior Regenoron participant Hannah Fried said.

The Stuyvesant Research Club brings research to a new level not commonly seen in other schools. With SIGMA and SRMP, the club strives to foster the skills needed for students to be successful in the research world. Lam said, “Research is like a [positive feedback loop], the more effort you put into it, the more you get out of it. I think that's the sort of philosophy for us in [the] Research Club. We can open doors for people but it's up to them to really walk through [it].”