Another Secondary Student Training Program at the University of Iowa has come and gone, which means it’s time to start thinking about applying for the 2019 session! A little over two months remain until applications open, so for those of you considering applying, now is a good time to think about what participation in SSTP really means. The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education at the University of Iowa defines SSTP as “a 5-and-a-half-week residential summer research program,” so to help you figure out just what to expect, we’ll unpack that phrase below.
First of all, just how long is SSTP? Officially, five-and-a-half weeks. In 2019, that means the program will begin on Wednesday, June 19th and conclude on Friday, July 26th. Not all of that time, however, is devoted to research. The first four days, from Thursday, June 20th to Sunday, June 23rd, are scheduled for orientation. While some incoming students may already already have some university-level research experience, for others, research will be entirely new. These first fours days are designed to bring everyone up to speed. Also, whatever your particular experience level, all incoming SSTP participants will have to complete numerous research-group specific required training programs to prepare for their research assignments. As a result, these first four days may indeed be the most important of the program, because without completing their required initial training programs, SSTP participants cannot be admitted into their respective research groups.
Starting Monday, June 24th, research begins in earnest. All participants are expected to work in their research groups full-time, i.e. eight (8) hours a day, five (5) days a week, totaling 40 hours per week. Because 5 weeks is such a short time to complete original research, it is vital that all admitted participants commit to full-time work. Research times are dictated by the requirements and limitations of the respective research groups, so students must be available from 8:00am to 5:30pm every weekday. If you anticipate having conflicts during daytime working hours, such as online courses or other outside obligations, SSTP is not an appropriate program for you.
The program will wrap up starting on Thursday, July 25th, at which time all student research must be finished. Most of that Thursday will consist of the final poster competition, in which all SSTP participants will present their original research to groups of their peers as well as to impartial outside judging panels. The following morning, participants will then hold a public poster session. That leaves a total of just twenty-two total days of research (research groups will not be open on July 4th in observance of the national holiday), or just under 180 hours! Therefore, participants have to make each moment count in order to ensure that they have sufficient original research to present on the final days. If and when you apply, keep that time frame in mind when you think about the kind of research you want to perform. What projects need fewer than 200 hours to complete? What kind of research avenues will fully-operational university-level research groups have available for you with such a small window? For examples of past projects, please refer to our virtual poster sessions here.
In addition to their research, all SSTP participants are also required to enroll in an evening course through the University of Iowa. SSTP faculty mentors have come to expect a high degree of excellence and professionalism from their mentees, and this course is designed to ensure that all SSTP participants live up to their mentors’ high expectations. Even for those students with extensive prior research experience, this course is mandatory.
SSTP isn’t just hard work, though. Some evenings and weekends will be filled with fun group activities, such as athletics, field trips, games, performances, and more. Please bear in mind that these extra-curricular activities are, like the evening class, mandatory. One of the core goals of SSTP is to forge lasting connections between participants who come from all over the world and often represent the very best and brightest in their respective areas of interest. Key to forging those connections is making sure that all participants have the opportunity to get to know each other outside of a purely professional context.
Moreover, all participants are required to stay in a special SSTP residential hall as part of the program. For applicants coming from far away, this requirement will seem clear, but this requirement applies to local applicants as well. If you are from Iowa or Illinois, even if you are within commuting distance of the University of Iowa, you are required to stay in the SSTP residence hall if you accept a placement in the program. Day trips home are permitted only in extenuating circumstances. If you are homesickness-prone, SSTP may not be an appropriate program for you. Furthermore, during your stay in the residential hall, you will be expected to behave as an adult. This means dispalying respect and maturity at all times not just to your mentors, your research group members, and the administrators of the program, but also to your peers and fellow students.
In the end, the SSTP experience will feel a lot like research at the college level. Successful applicants will spend a full work week engaged in research, take required evening classes, participate in extra-curricular activities, and live in a dedicated residence hall. We at the Belin-Blank Center therefore expect a commensurate level of poise and maturity from all of our applicants. To succeed in the program, you must be prepared to comport yourself with the dignity and respect SSTP mentors and administrators have come to expect from all program participants. When we call SSTP a residential program, we mean just that: SSTP is more than just full-time research; it’s a 24/7 commitment for five-and-a-half weeks. Before you start on your application, carefully consider if that commitment is right for you.