SPUR grows confidence, teaches student life lessons

Undergraduate learns more about science and herself through Sanford Research program

Young Sanford researcher in a lab coat smiles as she sits at a lab bench.

Alli Pittman decided to pursue research because she loved the challenge of facing something new every day.

“It holds new opportunities every time you go into it,” Pittman said. “I could be doing the same protocol and going over the same things but get a different result every single time. I loved that aspect of it.”

Her passion for science led her to look for summer research programs. In her search, Pittman, an undergraduate student from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, stumbled upon the Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research or SPUR.

SPUR, which began in 2010, attracts students from around the country who are interested in gaining research experience and preparing for a career in science.

“I was thinking about going into a field involving research, but I definitely wanted to be a physician too,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that research was definitely something I wanted to do,” she said.

Pittman was accepted and placed in the de la Puente lab. The lab focuses on the role of tumor microenvironment in cancer progression, drug resistance and cancer immunology.

“We’re really just looking at how oxygen-poor conditions within the tumor environment is affecting how our immune cells are functioning within the tumor environment,” she said.

An environment for growth

Pittman said one of the highlights of her experience has been learning new techniques. “I’ve never worked with some of the technology I’m using in the lab or on some of the techniques,” she said.

Pittman’s experience has stretched beyond research and into self-discovery.

“I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in who I am as a scientist,” she said. “Now, I feel like I know who I am and what my strengths are and how I can build on them.”

She’s also made some great friends.

“This has been a really gratifying experience in the sense of like being surrounded by like-minded people and learning new techniques and being in a place that’s almost like an environment that’s forcing growth.”

A future in the clinic and the lab

Her time in the lab has encouraged her to pursue her plans of being both a scientist and a physician.

“I really would like to see myself one day being in a clinic where it was like I’m interacting with patients and having that, but also doing research.”

Pittman encourages anyone who’s interested in pursuing research to apply for the SPUR program.

“This program does a really great job of creating that environment of growth and really pushing you to become the best person.”

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Posted In Research, Undergrad College Resources

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