Science Research at Stuy

A look into how teachers and students at Stuyvesant collaborate with research.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

When people hear of Stuyvesant, intensive STEM studies often come to mind. Like many stereotypes, this stereotype is based in truth.

At Stuyvesant, students are able to research with the help of teachers in clubs or at school, allowing them to explore new opportunities. Students are exposed to research opportunities in a plethora of ways, including the official Regeneron research courses, freshman-year research biology courses, and extracurricular opportunities such as the Stuyvesant Research Club. Through these experiences, students can develop connections with Stuyvesant faculty over research and receive valuable guidance, and many can attest to the value of performing research at Stuyvesant.

Junior Lamia Haque, for instance, took the Honors Research Biology course her freshman year. With three other students, she researched the effects of Ultraviolet and LED lights on dandelion growth. Her group hypothesized that ultraviolet light would be more detrimental to dandelion growth than lighter colors such as reds and oranges, and the experiments gave promising results in support of this hypothesis.

The course, which was a full period every day, exposed her to a large variety of organisms, including earthworms, daphnia, and mold, and materials, as she was allowed to use all science tools available at Stuyvesant. Haque is appreciative of the support biology teacher Jessica Quenzer provided throughout the course. In addition to providing ideas for research, “[Quenzer] is always open to helping students, showing them the strengths and weaknesses in their experiments,” Haque said. Though she does not plan on continuing research, Haque said that the skills she learned from the course provided skills which she can use in other fields, such as patience. “There is no sure-fire way to approach an experiment, and everyone has to be ready to modify their procedure several times,” she said.

Quenzer hopes to give students a greater understanding of the biology field. “I want them to find out if they like research to begin with. It's also important for them to learn how to find and understand publications, in order for them to develop a potential project. Writing a research proposal is a vital skill for those considering this as a career track,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. She also believes that research allows students to respect other living forms. “I do think students need to work with live organisms to some extent, to gain an appreciation of non-human life as well as the sense of responsibility that comes with biological research,” Quenzer wrote.

Senior Justin Lam, who worked on a research study on older adult populations with mental health disorders in New York City over the summer, was thankful for Regeneron Social Sciences teacher Ellen Schweitzer’s aid with his work. “She helped me finalize my research project and look into my poster for another competition. She helped me after [biology teacher Jason] Econome gave me the essential first connection,” Lam said. However, because Lam wasn’t a student in Regeneron, he felt like many opportunities were shut out for him. “Most students who do want to do biology research take the Regeneron research class, but I didn’t want to take the class because I don’t think it would have helped me explore my options [outside of biology research],” said Lam, who is now interested in pursuing social science research in the future.

Regeneron Research teacher and Faculty Advisor for the Research Club Jason Econome has helped several students gain opportunities at other laboratories. For his Regeneron class, “[the students] focus on performing molecular biology techniques and learning how to critically read a journal article and giving a presentation” while Econome spends his day “making phone calls to laboratories so [his] students can continue the research enrichment process during the summer with a professional research mentor,” Econome wrote in an e-mail interview. In addition to Regeneron, Econome “started a summer program in July teaching freshmen the basis of molecular biology and helped some of the juniors develop their own projects, [including teaching restriction digests, PCR amplification, and ELISA],” Econome wrote.

Junior Neil Sarkar, who holds a leadership position at the Research Club, noted how experienced members strive to mentor underclassmen in research. In addition to conducting weekly experiments to practice basic research techniques, “[members] are always available to read cover letters, resumes, and applications so we can maximize the chance that the student is able to get into a laboratory or summer program,” Sarkar said. Members also collaborate to brainstorm ideas for prestigious competitions, such as Genes in Space, where students propose an experiment that uses PCR to replicate DNA. The winning experiment is then conducted on the International Space Station. Sarkar has received guidance from Econome and biology teacher Dr. Meng Ping Tu. Dr. Tu sparked his interest in biology, which led to him pursuing it in-depth through the Stuyvesant Research Club, SIGMA, and research at NYU Langone Health during the summer of 2019. His project, “Correlation of Histological and Epigenetic Classification for Diagnosis of Brain Tumors,” investigated glioblastoma samples. “Stuyvesant teachers are dedicated and passionate in helping students with their research,” Sarkar said. He feels lucky to have so many opportunities to pursue research, especially due to the supportive environment forged by the teachers and the Research Club.

In a survey we conducted, there was an apparent consensus that students would like more research opportunities at Stuyvesant. One way this increase could happen is by expanding research to all of the science departments at Stuyvesant. “Stuyvesant has an unbelievably strong biology department, which is why most students who do research tend to center their projects in biology, but I'd love to see more love given to the other two sciences,” senior Mahmadul Rapi said. “Physics and chemistry research tend to be more data and lab intensive than biology, but that shouldn't stop high school students from going into those fields.” Stuyvesant should have a goal of increasing the breadth of topics available to research. Teachers should take note of the student body’s desires to perform research and assist however they can. Actions as simple as suggesting potential research topics occasionally during their classes would be beneficial to students, many of whom want to conduct research but don’t always have a clear topic in mind. This could also be in the form of a more in-depth mentorship. Econome, for example, would love to mentor students in the future, even though he hasn’t directly done so in the past two summers. He said, “If asked to, I certainly would be happy to mentor a project.”

When aiding students with research, Econome believes that they have many opportunities to work in a laboratory. “It’s NYC—the richest in almost every way—[so there are many] available laboratories,” he said. He believes that students should “have gathered data from a few experiments in order to compose a real, scientific paper.” This is not always a guarantee, however. Students in his Regeneron Research class often struggle to find a summer lab, even though they were accepted into the course. The uncertainty of the outbreak of the coronavirus also hampers many Regeneron students’ searches for a lab. An alternative could be to develop more specific research programs within Stuyvesant, such as the Honors Research Biology class and Econome’s summer program.

Stuyvesant students are exposed to a tremendous amount of research opportunities, but it is clear that there tends to be an emphasis on biology research. It’s important to note, however, the endless possibilities of research in other areas of science such as physics and chemistry, even if they are not currently represented as strongly as biology research is at Stuyvesant. Given the supportive nature of the Stuyvesant faculty, students have opportunities to explore other lesser-represented areas in science at Stuyvesant.

Quenzer wishes to see more research opportunities at Stuyvesant. “I do think there should be more opportunities within Stuy. I think more teachers should be involved, many of the science teachers here are experts in various fields, and have varying degrees of research background,” Quenzer wrote. However, she understands that there are restrictions. “The biggest issue we all have is time. Research takes up a huge amount of time, and requires commitment. The teachers have their classes to prioritize, as well as whatever obligations they may have at home,” Quenzer described.

Research is vital, and there are always new discoveries to be made. Our scientific knowledge of the coronavirus, for example, would not be possible without the quick, determined researchers racing to answer our questions. High school students should be immersed in research, and for Stuyvesant students, this begins with the teacher-student connections, courses, and clubs in the school.