Columbia University in the City of New York

Become a BRAINYAC Mentor

Sign up by Monday, April 1, 2024.

Above: A 2022 BRAINYAC student and mentor in the lab (Credit: Bruce Gilbert/Columbia University).

We have 20 BRAINYAC students who began their training in January in preparation for their full-time, eight-week lab placements starting July 1, 2024, and we are recruiting mentors for this summer!

Mentor signups are due by Monday, April 1, 2024. If you are interested in hosting one of these curious and talented students in your lab this summer (from July 1 - August 16), click here to apply.


Benefits of hosting a BRAINYAC student

Good mentoring skills help a scientist at any career level, and BRAINYAC explicitly fosters quality mentoring relationships. As a BRAINYAC mentor, you will have access to additional mentor training and join a community of fellow program mentors.

Mentors are provided $2500 in lab funds -- Mentors may choose to use the lab stipend flexibly for lab supplies and services related or unrelated to the BRAINYAC student, business travel, and conferences.


Labs gain the possibility of a long-term lab member. Students often express interest in returning to their host labs during the school year or the following summer, at which time they are already trained and can be put on more intensive projects. (Our Merit Fellowship program financially supports a small number of BRAINYAC alumni to continue work in their host labs.)

Compared to accepting other high school students, BRAINYAC students are:

1. Prescreened for success: BRAINYAC students are dedicated to science and medicine. They undergo necessary safety training prior to joining a lab and don’t carry the uncertainties of external summer students

2. Knowledgeable about academic neuroscience: Through twelve Saturday classes during the spring semester and weekly Thursday classes during the summer, students are prepared for and guided through their research experience. We cover topics such as neuroanatomy, pipetting, basic Python, how to read a journal article, microscopy, and responsible conduct of research during the spring training sessions. In the summer training sessions, we guide them through the creation of a poster showcasing the research they work on with you. 

3. Reliable: Because students are paid at the conclusion of the program, they do not neglect their program responsibilities. The application process is highly competitive, and the students are eager and motivated to participate in neuroscience research. 


Lab Requirements

Host-laboratories must have at least some focus on neuroscience. They also must have projects for BRAINYAC students that do not involve working directly with humans, human stem cells, non-human primates, or live vertebrates (see FAQs below for acceptable project examples)


Mentor Requirements

A mentor can be faculty, research scientists, post-docs, or graduate students enrolled in an MD/PhD or PhD program.

Mentors must be able to participate in the following pre-program sessions:

Saturday, May 18, 2024, time TBD: Mentor & student matching event

Friday, June 14, 2024, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm: Mentor training

Thursday, June 27, 2024, 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm: Mentor-lab tour to meet your mentee

July 1 - August 16, 2024:  BRAINYAC internship program (duration of mentorship; 8 weeks)

Friday, August 16, 2023, 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm: Final Poster Presentation & Graduation event where students will present their research.


Mentors must be in good standing with Protection of Minors (POM) Training and will complete a background check.

Our mentor-mentee matching process considers the preferences of both students and mentors.

Students rank the labs they are most interested in, and mentors rank students after the mentor-mentee interviews. Final matches are assigned to maximize those preferences.


BRAINYAC Student Details

BRAINYAC students are college-bound students interested in science. Most students are rising juniors or rising seniors for the summer component of the program. Many BRAINYAC students come from upper Manhattan and the South Bronx.

The students are drawn from the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, & Engineering (CSS) and four youth-serving programs: the Lang Youth Medical Program, the State Pre-College Enrichment Program (SPREP), Double Discovery Center and BioBus.

In a competitive application process in the fall, students are admitted to BRAINYAC from these programs based on their paper application and an interview, with preference given to students demonstrating an interest in and potential aptitude for conducting authentic, mentored neuroscience research.


BRAINYAC Student Commitment

The BRAINYAC summer session runs eight weeks from Monday, July 1 to Friday, August 16, 2024. Students are on campus every weekday of the summer session (with the exception of the federal holiday observed July 4) from approximately 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (or similar hours at the discretion of their mentor). Students attend a two-hour BRAINYAC class session each Thursday morning and some other program events scheduled during the week. Students prepare a scientific poster of their research project to be presented at a public event on the final day of the program.





What kind of project is appropriate for a high school student?

Successful projects are typically a defined sub-portion of a mentor’s project. Examples include a preliminary experiment to determine appropriate concentrations, incubation time, or other experimental parameters. Students have had projects processing and staining tissues, analyzing behavior videos, or performing PCR on a new set of samples as part of a preliminary study. Microscopy work is a common project-- for example, a mentor might want to investigate a region of the brain and want a preliminary count of a certain cell type to know that further study is warranted. Typically, students master one to three techniques during their time in the lab. A BRAINYAC student can work with postmortem tissue from any animal model, work with live invertebrates, and analyze data from human and other subjects. Students are prohibited from working with human patients, live vertebrates, and human stem cells.


If you would like to discuss your potential project, please email Maia Gumnit at [email protected].

What does the final poster presentation consist of?

The final presentation is a scientific poster communicating the research focus of the lab and mentor, as well as how the student contributed to those broader aims through their own work. While quantitative data is the ideal goal of a project, the lack of it does not mean a failed project. A visual display of how the student’s work fits within the lab can demonstrate significant learning as well. In addition, students learn how to create their posters section by section in weekly Thursday classes. 


How do I know the student will be a committed lab member?

Only students who attend CSS or are already enrolled in one of four aforementioned science programs are eligible to apply to BRAINYAC. Thus, the BRAINYAC applicant pool draws from students who already self-identify as science students and who have committed to a year or more of Saturday classes of science, college, and career readiness. Over the course of twelve BRAINYAC class sessions during spring semester, students become acquainted with fundamental neuroscience principals, common lab techniques, introductory coding, and how a lab works. Furthermore, the students are paid contingent upon the successful completion of their summer research.


What should a mentor do if they are not available for the entirety of the program?

In the case that a mentor is unavailable anytime during this span of the program, a co-mentor in the lab may be designated to work with the student.


When is the lab stipend available?

The stipend will be transferred to your lab once the student starts in your lab.


What is Protection of Minors (POM) Training?

Protection of Minors Training is an online course designed to familiarize members of the Columbia community with University policy and relevant law on reporting suspected child abuse and maltreatment of minors. The online course includes definitions of child abuse and maltreatment, possible signs and indicators, appropriate responses, how to report a concern, and appropriate interactions with minors. Click here to learn more about POM Training.


For more information, contact Maia Gumnit.


Connect with us

Become a BRAINYAC Mentor

Apply Now