Student Stories
Weizmann Institute summer program introduces students to science

If you’re a budding scientist about to graduate from high school but not sure what field to pursue, how do you make up your mind?

Spending a month at the prestigious Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel might help.

That’s what the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute offers every July for 75 international students, including seven Canadians, who enjoy science but probably haven’t yet narrowed down a field of study.

“The best (scholarship recipients) are often those that don’t have a specific path because they learn so much at the institute that when they come back they often know what they want to do,” said Weizmann Canada national program and events manager Jan Goldenberg.

Donations to Weizmann Canada, with western Canadian chapters in Calgary and Vancouver, support the scholarships worth about $5,000 each and one student from Western Canada is chosen every year — including 2014 recipient Christine Wang from Vancouver.

Students — all recent high school graduates who have not yet attended university — work with researchers for three weeks in a lab environment before shifting their activities to a field school near the Dead Sea to study Israel’s unique ecosystem.

Fields of study include biochemistry, biology, chemistry, mathematical and computer sciences and physics in the annual program that began in 1969.

Wang, a West Point Grey Academy graduate, studied molecular biology and genetics at the Weizmann Institute this year — an experience that increased her interest for research in general.

“I really liked the whole process of problem solving and looking at the results and going back and changing the process because of the results,” she said. “I hadn’t thought of that being such a huge part of research before.”

Wang, who now studies health sciences in her first year at McMaster University, also learned to appreciate the time-consuming nature of detailed research.

“I was there for one month and we actually only went through one round of the whole experiment,” she said.

Goldenberg said Weizmann Canada, with a relatively new presence in Vancouver, wants to offer the one-month scholarship to more western Canadian students by publicizing its benefits, generating more donations and attracting more applicants.

She said her organization only receives a “handful” of applications each year from Vancouver and Calgary students, while receiving substantially more from students in Toronto and Montreal.

“The best part of my job is getting letters from the students once they get back home from Israel,” she said. “They say now they get it because they’ve worked with like-minded people and that’s not always easy to find. The students are really allowed to use their curiosity over there.”

Qualifying students interested in applying for the 2015 program can find details at www.weizmann.ca. The application deadline is March 1.

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