A Ticket Around the World: AUB’s Research Volunteer Programs

Vol. XXII, No. 1, 2024

Working with professors on research projects destined for publication is usually the purview of graduate and postgraduate students. But at AUB, hundreds of undergraduate students have been given this golden opportunity, and some have even been included as coauthors in high-impact journal articles.

What began in 2014 as the Medical Research Volunteer Program (MRVP), led by Drs. Bilal Kaafarani and Hani Tamim, has since evolved into three different programs. As demand from undergraduates grew beyond what could be accommodated by medical researchers at AUB, the most recent initiative is the MRVP-International (MRVP-Int’l), which seeks to match AUB students with MDs from all over the world on virtual research tasks. As of August 2023, 83 undergraduate students have worked on 38 MRVPInt’l projects with 24 principal investigators (PIs) from 23 institutions in the US, Canada, England, France, and Hong Kong.

Kassem Farhat, medical student at AUB, remembers, “I asked Dr. Kaafarani for a meeting during my first semester at AUB to discuss with him the various opportunities offered by the MRVP-Int’l. I noticed that it would be a great thing to participate in, as I have seen students working on exciting topics with highly experienced and qualified doctors.” Kassem is first-place winner of the 2022 Ibrahim and Loulu Durr Endowed MRVP Award. To all those who are looking to enroll in the program, he says, “Be passionate about everything you are doing. Remember that you may find your passion in fields other than medicine, so let that be your driving force to anything you want to pursue in your life.”

Perla Ibrahim (BS ’15, MD ’19), advanced anterior segment surgery fellow at the Wilmer Eye Institute– Johns Hopkins Hospital, reminisces, “Participating in the MRVP was a pivotal point in my life, as it marked my introduction to the world of research. This decision marked the beginning of a transformative journey for me.” Perla believes that “the more you give, the more you take.” She tells students to “wholeheartedly commit to the research experience. The more time and effort you invest, the more fulfilling and rewarding the results will be.”

Ricardo Bitar, medical student at AUB, believes that “research is one of the cornerstones of modern medicine, and I would like to contribute to this as much as possible. Volunteering with MRVP-Int’l gave me the opportunity to build a relationship with MDs outside of Lebanon and gave me a set of skills that is now helping me in my current research outside of the program.” His advice to new students is, “Even if a project seems not very appealing, you never know when you can find your new interest through research. Stay open to new topics, and accept the lessons that your PIs teach you.”

Reine Obeid graduated with a BS in biology and is continuing her studies in epidemiology at AUB. “I got the chance to collaborate and connect with researchers working in the US and to explore how to conduct research. Being involved in research during my undergraduate studies boosted my application, allowing me to be part of an NIH training program.” According to Reine, the MRVP-Int’l “is a chance for selfassessment where you can reflect on your interests and motivations. Medical research requires curiosity, patience, and persistence. It is a chance to prove that you’re driven by a genuine interest in discovery and improving patient outcomes.”

A little history…

2014: The MRVP was launched, intended for students interested in becoming involved in the field of medical research early on in their academic career and giving them the opportunity to learn from and support physicians, clinical researchers, basic scientists, and other health professionals.

2019: Based on the success of the MRVP, the Office of the Provost launched the Undergraduate Research Volunteer Program (URVP), which includes research projects from across the various faculties and disciplines at AUB.

2021: Drs. Kaafarani and Tamim launched the MRVP-Int’l, in which AUB students are matched to work with MDs across the globe.

Are you a medical researcher who wants to give back to the university and help the next generation? Get involved! Contact Dr. Kaafarani at: bilal.kaafarani@aub.edu.lb or Dr. Tamim at: htamim@aub.edu.lb