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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Students spend 10 weeks delving into parasites and the Czech Republic


    Prozkoumat! is a group research program directed by Dr. Carol Bender that sends UA students to the Institute of Parasitology at the Czech Academy of Sciences to conduct research on parasitology. The program began last school year and culminated in a group research trip during the summer.

    This year’s trip consisted of 10 students. Thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health, students did not have to pay much out of pocket and even received a travel stipend to be used as they wished.

    “I wanted a study abroad program that would fit with my major,” said Nadine Peinovich, a biology senior. “[Prozkoumat!] was perfect, and it was even better that we had an NIH grant that paid for most of the trip.”

    The NIH grant will end in December, which may mean that students in the program this year and beyond may have to pay for some of the trip.

    Prior to traveling to the Czech Republic, the students had to take two required classes to ensure their success abroad. Bender taught one class, called Preparation for International Research Experience (MCB 396j). The other, This Wormy World (VSC 195d), was a one-credit colloquium taught by Charles Sterling and was a brief introduction to parasitology.

    “When you go to do research in another country, you want to feel very secure with your science, because everything else around you is going to be different,” Bender said. “Sometimes the language, the culture, how things are done, the customs—–—all of that is new, and you want students to have the security of knowing something about the research that they’re going to do.”

    For Ernesto Hernandez, a senior studying molecular and cellular biology and neuroscience and cognitive science, venturing into the unknown was the appeal of the program.

    “You get to experience a whole new culture—not just a social culture, but a lab culture as well,” Hernandez said.

    Hernandez was also interested in studying parasitology, a field he said was new to him.

    Bender, who traveled with the students, is the director of Prozkoumat! as well as other research programs such as the Undergraduate Biology Research Program and Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open, or BRAVO!

    The BRAVO! program is similar to Prozkoumat! However, it sends individual students to different countries to conduct research, whereas Prozkoumat! sent a group of 10 students to one country.

    In addition, BRAVO! students are required to have six months of research before applying whereas Prozkoumat! students do not require any prior research experience.

    Bender was especially interested in seeing how a group dynamic would change the experience for students.

    “I’ve always been curious to see if students learn more both culturally and scientifically with [the BRAVO!] model versus with a group model,” Bender said.

    While in the Czech Republic, students lived in graduate housing together and traveled to different areas during weekends. At one point in time, they traveled to a blacksmith and spent the day learning how to make nails.

    “That was definitely one of the top experiences while I was there, just because I don’t think it’s something I could do with such ease in the states because of safety regulations,” Hernandez said. “That was really, really neat—to be able to get some white-hot iron and to strike it on the anvil.”

    Follow Connie Tran on Twitter.

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