Base Pair

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General interest

What is Base Pair?

Base Pair, initiated in 1992, is a successful biomedical research mentorship program that pairs faculty from UMMC with public high school students and educators. Oriented to interact primarily with participants from the largest public school district in the state of Mississippi, the Jackson Public School District (JPSD), the program has expanded to enlist students and/or teachers from school districts throughout central Mississippi, including Adams, Byram, Clinton, Lincoln, Madison, Mendenhall and Northwest Rankin. This biomedical research mentorship program allows each student to experience the scientific field in a "hands-on" manner under the guidance and supervision of a faculty researcher at UMMC.

In preparation for this mentoring, Base Pair created a novel, graduation credit-accruing high school course, Biomedical Research, that prepares students for laboratory research at UMMC during the academic year. Sanction of this course by the Mississippi Department of Education permits any public high school in Mississippi to adopt the course. Mentors subsequently host students in active research, in their laboratories, during afternoons for a full semester. Teacher professional development during the summer and science curriculum enhancement activities throughout the year complement student participation to create a highly coordinated impetus for communication of contemporary biomedical science ethical concerns, techniques and philosophies.

Base Pair has had the good fortune to have been (1994-2003) and to continue to be (2003-2007) & (2007-2012) funded by four consecutive awards from the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest private supporter of science education initiatives in the world. Through their Precollege Science Education Initiative for Biomedical Research Institutions, the Institute has awarded over $1.3 million to support the Base Pair program.

Base Pair seeks to cultivate career awareness of high school students in areas related to health care/biomedical research, to train such students to function as effective "Communicators of Science" to lay persons, and to advance science curriculum development within the target school district. Additional funding support has been provided by the National Science Foundation and local groups, including Health Futures and the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson.

Success in communicating science is highlighted by the fact that over 300 scientific abstracts or publications have been co-authored or presented by high school students in professional scientific forums, while over a dozen teachers have accomplished similar professional goals. The program actively uses innovative communication devices, such as videophones, to impart greater flexibility for interactions among mentors, students and teachers. As of August 2016, 113 of those eligible have chosen a science major. Of those, 91 have either enrolled in graduate training or have entered a science-related career. Thirty-five have entered a PhD, MD or an MD/PhD training program. A total of 57 teachers have participated actively in Base Pair training. Moreover, through curriculum development activities and participation in web-based mentoring groups, the positive educational impact of the program has reached literally hundreds more students and educators.

The fundamental purpose of Base Pair is to engage high school students and teachers in meaningful, productive biomedical research. Fulfillment of this objective proffers additional advantages, including enhancement of secondary school academic expectations and orientation of students towards diverse biomedical careers. As evidence of this, a substantial number of Base Pair students and teachers have established bona fide professional scientific credentials as co-authors and presenters of their research in one or more scientific forums. These credentials can be considered an important component of each participant's lifetime resume. 

What is the Student Oriented Academic Research (SOAR) program?

In 2002-03, SOAR was implemented in Jim Hill High School by Susan Bender under the direction of then-principal Dr. Earl Watkins. The SOAR program engages mainstream students with an interest in science in a two-year course of academic study and development of a research project that will be completed at that school site. An offshoot of the Base Pair program and developed under the auspices of a supplemental K-12 Higher Education Partnership (KHEP) grant from the National Science Foundation, SOAR is intended to serve as a vehicle for expansion of Base Pair-initiated concepts of inquiry-based and laboratory-oriented science learning.


What advantages accrue from mentoring a Base Pair student?

A mentoring relationship is the basis for scientific education, particularly in the academic arena. However, mentoring of a Base Pair student imposes unique constraints on the mentoring relationship in a laboratory environment. These constraints include most critically a relative lack of advanced technical knowledge on the part of the student, the necessity for interaction with a student who is unfamiliar with the routine, rigor and ritual customary to a professional working environment, and a relative lack of time for direct laboratory work by the student.

Nevertheless, over a period of almost two decades and with a sample of close to 200 mentored students, the consensus among mentors at UMMC is that the mentoring program has been decidedly positive for the individual mentor, the mentor's laboratory, and the Medical Center. Personal satisfaction in assisting the intellectual growth of students is an important criterion cited by mentors who repeatedly host students in their research endeavors. Community recognition, both the lay community and the Medical Center community, has been significant for Base Pair mentors. Professional productivity, while modest by some standards, has been achieved in many instances for those mentors who have co-authored scientific manuscripts, abstracts and presentations with a student. Finally, with the support of the Medical Center administration and external funding agencies (most notably the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), hosting a Base Pair student has provided mentors with additional funds for maintaining their research operations.

Are your activities amenable for mentoring a Base Pair student?

School curriculum is subject to the attendance requirements of the Jackson Public School District and the Mississippi Department of Education. Their curriculum devotes one class periods to Base Pair activities, each weekday, for the entire school year. They are expected to be available for activities at UMMC between 2:15-3:15 p.m. for the second semester beginning in January and ending in May. However, it is reasonable to expect that it may require between 10 and 15 minutes for students to shuttle between Murrah High School and UMMC. They effectively have 60 minutes each weekday for activities at UMMC. Recognizing the constraints that this limited period of time places on the pursuit of research, in most cases, a student will need to be assigned to assist in some aspect of an ongoing project in which you and your research staff are engaged. It is frequently difficult to design a separate and unique experimental problem for each student. Some of the most successful mentor-student pairings have been those in which the student learns to function as a member of a research team and learns the "research ropes" through cooperative pursuit of your laboratory's research goals.

A mentor should consider the following criteria when evaluating whether their laboratory would serve as a good host for a Base Pair student:

  • Can a realistic laboratory experience be provided in 60 minutes, 5 days/week?
  • Is such an activity appropriate for a high school science background?
  • Can the mentor and/or laboratory staff devote regular time to the student?

What are the qualifications of a Base Pair student?

Most Base Pair students are selected from the Jackson Public School District Academic and Performing Arts Complex (APAC) program. The APAC program includes some of the highest achieving students in the district and generally provides a higher than average science background. Students most commonly participate during their junior year, although many seniors also are selected. On rare occasions, freshmen or sophomore students have participated and performed well. Each student will have participated in a one semester preparatory course at Murrah High School. That course introduces students to the UMMC Rowland Medical Library information database and basic search strategies, provides advanced training in the most basic laboratory and presentation skills, and provides each student with a general knowledge of the research interest of potential mentors.

The program has included at least two students from Murrah High School who were selected to be Presidential Scholars. One Base Pair student has progressed to the Westinghouse Science Competition as a semi-finalist. Based on research performed at UMMC, many students have garnered regional and national attention in science fair competitions and have been awarded numerous scholarships for their work. However, many of these students have continued to work on their projects beyond the one semester nominally arranged for Base Pair activities. As mentioned earlier in this document, over 300 presentations, published abstracts or full-length scientific publications have been produced with a Base Pair student as presenter or co-author.

What expectations should you have of a Base Pair student?

The basic assumptions concerning a Base Pair student are that they will be:

  • Enthusiastic
  • Curious and intellectually dynamic
  • Well-behaved
  • Punctual
  • Expected to keep the mentor informed of absences
  • Prepared to accept a reasonable degree of independence in daily activities
  • Willing and prepared to engage in directed, yet independent, study

What are your responsibilities as a Base Pair mentor?

Your primary responsibility is to engage a student in a meaningful research experience, including taking active responsibility for technical and safety training. It is important that you clearly define the expectations that you have for your student. The student will need to be tutored to enhance their understanding of the laboratory activities and the way in which their project fits into those activities. Each mentor must take responsibility for allocating time to provide adequate guidance and supervision of their student. It is not unreasonable to engage technical staff, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the supervisory process, but, as a mentor, you are expected to devote personal time to meeting with the student. Each student is required to finish the academic year with a formal oral presentation of their experiences in the laboratory. That presentation will take place in a formal setting at which mentors, students, and parents are expected to attend.

In summary, the basic mentor responsibilities include:

  • Clearly and formally defining expectations for each student
  • Providing technical and safety training, with continued oversight in these areas
  • Providing career guidance
  • Meeting program deadlines
  • Assisting student in preparation and delivery of a final report
  • Listening and providing advice

Do you have any advice for new mentors?

The following material is taken from the American Chemical Society Project SEED Handbook and may be useful as a guide to those considering participation as a Base Pair mentor:

  • For most people, good mentoring, like good teaching, is a skill that is developed over time. Here are a few tips for beginners:
  • Listen patiently. Give the student time to get to issues that are sensitive or embarrassing.
  • Build a relationship. Simple joint activities—walks across campus, informal conversations over coffee, attending a lecture together—will help to develop rapport. Take cues from the student about how close the relationship should be.
  • Don’t abuse your authority. Don’t ask students to do personal work, such as mowing lawns, baby-sitting, and photocopying.
  • Nurture self-sufficiency. Your goal is not to “clone” yourself but to encourage confidence and independent thinking.
  • Establish “protected time” together. Try to minimize interruptions by telephone calls or visitors.
  • Share yourself. Invite students to see what you do, both on and off the job. Talk about your own successes and failures. Let the student see your human side, and encourage the student to reciprocate.
  • Provide introductions. Help the student to develop a professional network and build a community of mentors.
  • Be constructive. Critical feedback is essential to spur improvement, but do it kindly and temper criticism with praise when deserved.
  • Don’t be overbearing. Avoid dictating choices or controlling a student’s behavior.
  • Find your own mentors. New advisers, like new students, benefit from guidance by those with more experience.

Is there a schedule that mentors/mentees follow?


  • Submit summary (abstract) of research activities/student opportunities to Program Director by early September
  • Anticipate/respond to student requests for interviews by mid-October-November
  • Expect confirmation of student appointment by early December
  • Attend parent-student (evening) reception January 5
  • New students join the laboratory during the first week of the second semester
  • Establish clear policies for student involvement Second week in January. For Example:
    • Who will function as daily lab "tutor"?
    • How will student and mentor communicate?
    • What schedule for regular meetings?
  • Submit orders for mentor reimbursement anytime, January to June
  • Determine schedule for final student presentation by mid March
  • Attend final student presentation at SHRP Research Day in Spring

Students and parents

To whom can I direct program-related questions, comments or concerns?

The program director is Rob Rockhold, PhD. Any questions, comments or concerns related to participation in Base Pair.

  • Rob Rockhold, PhD
    Deputy Chief Academic Officer
    Professor, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology
    Program Director, Base Pair
    University of Mississippi Medical Center
    2500 N. State St.
    Jackson, MS 39216-4505
    (601) 984-2810
    Fax: (601) 984-2970

What is the role of a Base Pair parent?

Parental involvement is fundamental to academic success in any venue, but is particularly relevant to Base Pair activities. Parents must recognize, and support, the academic and behavioral challenges offered by participation in Base Pair. The level of academic performance demanded and facilitated by Jeff Stokes, the lead teacher at Murrah High School, is extremely rigorous, and often requires a substantial investment of a student's time in development of independent projects. Many of these will require access to World Wide Web databases and/or information sources available through the Rowland Medical Library at the Medical Center.

The understanding and support, by parents, of the time requirement for student participation in Base Pair is essential. Transportation and attendance issues related to activities at the Medical Center, allocation of a student's time between Base Pair activities and other curricular and extra-curricular studies, including after-school jobs, may require specific attention and assistance from parents. A field trip, by the Base Pair class, to the annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences is planned. This event has been a component of Base Pair since its inception and has been well received by students and parents in the past. Students are accompanied by the lead teacher, but any parent who is interested in participating as a chaperone should contact the Program Director.

Parental attendance is requested at three events, an informal evening information and orientation session for Base Pair students (both first and second year) and their parents in the fall a formal evening reception offered early in early spring on the Medical Center campus, and at the SHRP (School of Health Related Professions) Research Day or at the end-of-year oral presentations by students, which will also be held on the Medical Center campus (see the program calendar for specific dates). Invitations for these events will be forthcoming. Formal evaluation, by parents, of the program has always been requested.

What does the Base Pair program require from students?

Base Pair is an academically-based, graduation credit-accruing program in which high school students have an opportunity to engage in meaningful biomedical research on the UMMC campus and learn about careers in biomedical and health care research. It pairs students from the Jackson Public School District (and more rarely, from other high schools in the Jackson metro area) with active research faculty from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Academic training takes place primarily at Murrah High School, with some sessions on the Medical Center campus. All research activities occur on the Medical Center campus. A maximum class size of 15 students can be supported with current external funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Typically, each class consists of 8-12 first-year students and 3-7 second-year students.

First-year students: Students must be enrolled in the Mississippi Department of Education-approved preparatory course, Biomedical Research, (or an acceptable substitute) prior to engaging in activities on the Medical Center campus. Currently, this course meets for two consecutive 50 minute class periods, five days per week on the Murrah High School campus during the fall semester. Jeff Stokes is designated as the lead teacher for the Base Pair program and is responsible for all Murrah-based teaching and for supervision of all Base Pair student participants. Cindy Cook at Murrah serves as a facilitator for the program. The purpose of Biomedical Research is to prepare the student to participate safely and productively in the intensive, independent adult atmosphere of a Medical Center research laboratory. Laboratory, electronic information research, and presentation skills are emphasized in an academically rigorous course offered in the high school setting. Maintenance of a research journal, use of PowerPoint software, and frequent, detailed writing assignments are among the criteria used to evaluate (grade) student performance. Students are expected to use the information research skills to become familiar with the research interests of potential mentors and to relate those interests to other members of the class as part of their regular, graded course activities. Students are also expected to initiate contact with up to three Medical Center researchers with whom they have an interest in working. That contact will facilitate the formal selection process, in which both a student and a mentor agree to work together. Selection is normally completed prior to the year-end holiday vacation.

Beginning in 2005, Base Pair students also became involved in preparing and presenting at least two Community Science Forum events as well as submitting material for inclusion in the quarterly newsletter, Telemachian Notes.

Medical Center-based Base Pair research activities for students normally begin with the commencement of the high school academic calendar in January. Students are expected to be available for activities at the Medical Center between 2:15-3:15 p.m. for January to May. This is an attendance policy of the Jackson Public School District and the Mississippi Department of Education. Any absence must be communicated both to a student's mentor and the high school attendance coordinator. Students are expected to be under a mentor's supervision at all times while at UMMC. If a mentor is not available, students will report to the Rowland Medical Library for directed study until the end of their normal UMMC attendance period. However, it is reasonable to expect that it may require between 10 and 15 minutes for students to shuttle between Murrah High School and the Medical Center. Transportation is currently provided by bus for students between the high school and the Medical Center. Parking for students is also available for no cost in the Veteran's Memorial Stadium parking lot on North State St. or in pay parking garages on the Medical Center campus. Thus, students effectively have 60 minutes each weekday for activities at the Medical Center.

It is important to recognize that, although one class period each day is a major commitment on the part of a student and the school district, meaningful biomedical research is exceedingly difficult to perform in this limited period of time. Recognizing the constraints that this limited period of time places on the pursuit of research, a student will, in most cases, be assigned to assist in some aspect of an ongoing project in their mentor's research laboratory. It is frequently difficult to design a separate and unique experimental problem for each student. Some of the most successful mentor-student pairings have been those in which the student learns to function as a member of a research team and learns the "research ropes" through cooperative pursuit of mentor's research goals. Parents should be willing to consider the possibility that some students may need to spend additional time, after normal school hours and/or on weekends, to complete critical experiments with their mentors. The time demands for a program such as Base Pair are such that students are often counseled, during the application process, that participation in other after-school programs and jobs is discouraged.

Academic responsibilities

Base Pair, as a component of the APAC program, seeks out academically superior students and must maintain the highest academic standards. Participation in the academic courses associated with Base Pair, which are detailed below, is subject to assignment of specific academic responsibilities and deadlines. Adherence to these, and to the JPSD attendance requirements, must be maintained. The grade that is achieved by each student will be earned by the degree of completion of these requirements. It is possible to obtain a less than satisfactory grade (i.e., lower than a B), which is weighted according to the APAC expanded scale. Both students and parents must be aware of these responsibilities and deadlines and recognize the additional commitments required by the program. It is particularly important to note that the academic responsibilities are equally important in the second (UMMC mentorship) semester of the first year and during the second year, should a student participate in that component.

At the present time, Base Pair student participants at Murrah High School enroll in three academic courses. These are Biomedical Research (one Carnegie credit, two semesters), Molecular Biology (1/2 Carnegie Credit, Fall semester), and Field Studies (1/2 Carnegie credit, Spring semester). Each course is graded by the Base Pair lead teacher at Murrah High School and is academically rigorous. Students and parents can expect that completion of numerous independent projects, which require information to be obtained through the Rowland Medical Library at the Medical Center and/or through accessing resources available on the World Wide Web, will be required.

Second-year students: Most commonly, junior and senior high school students are chosen to participate in Base Pair. In some cases, a student who begins participation as a junior may wish to engage in a second year of research activities at the Medical Center. To do so, that student must reapply for a second year, with formal agreement from their mentor, and must present evidence of an ongoing research project in which they are participating. Second-year students are expected to devote one class period, each day for a full year (both fall And spring semesters), to working at the Medical Center in that mentor's research laboratory. Supervision by the Base Pair lead teacher will continue. Students will be expected to meet on a regular basis with that teacher at Murrah High School and will also be expected to prepare and present/submit assignments as defined by the lead teacher. Student grades will be determined by performance on such assignments as well as on the performance of the student in the mentor's laboratory.

Who is qualified?

Any student at Murrah High School may apply. Students from other JPSD high schools may also apply, but issues of transportation and enrollment in Biomedical Research (presently offered only at Murrah) must be worked out to the satisfaction of the appropriate JPSD staff and the program director. The same criteria are applicable to students from outside the JPSD who wish to enroll in Base Pair. Most commonly, students are selected to participate in Base Pair during their junior or senior year. A firm grounding in Biology and Chemistry is essential for students to become fully engaged in the process or biomedical research. High level skills in written and spoken English, and in reading are essential, as is the ability to utilize basic personal computer software (word processing, PowerPoint, spread sheets, etc.) and navigate the Internet with both insight and discrimination. Demonstration of a keen sense of curiosity and a strong record of academic proficiency are critical to selection into Base Pair. Each applicant must also undergo a personal interview with the Program Director and/or the lead teacher during the selection process. The final choice for selection remains the prerogative of the Program Director alone.

What are typical projects?

Virtually all aspects of laboratory-based biomedical research have been encompassed by students working in the program. Gene transfection, protein and nucleotide separations, bacterial and mammalian cell culture, experimental animal surgery and handling, psychological testing, computer modeling, immunology, tissue transplantation and histological procedures are common to many of the projects in which students have engaged in past years. Students have worked under supervision of mentors in the Schools of Medicine, Graduate Studies, Nursing, Dentistry and Health Related Professions. Parents are referred to the list of student co-authored abstracts, presentations and publications provided earlier for more detailed descriptions of Base Pair student research.

Work in Medical Center laboratories carries potential risks not found in the normal high school environment. These include physical, chemical and radiation hazards, as well as exposure to experimental animals and blood-borne pathogens. UMMC maintains a strict policy for formal training of employees, students and volunteers in such risks, and operates under state and national guidelines for purchase, handling and disposal of risk-related material. In addition, Base Pair mentors accept the responsibility for informal training of students in their laboratories, each of which may have unique hazards associated with it. Further training is provided by introduction of students to on-line training in laboratory and biomedical hazards, such as the Safe Science site provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Parents should feel welcome to discuss any possible concerns with the Base Pair program director.

What are the benefits of participation in Base Pair ?

Base Pair offers students a highly engaging, rigorous, and well supervised introduction to contemporary biomedical research – the science for the new millennium. Students will receive both didactic and hands-on training in contemporary biological, chemical and information research techniques – for which academic credit towards high school graduation will be provided. Exposure to issues of biomedical research and clinical ethics, as well as training in advanced communication and presentation skills will accrue. Students will be trained both to understand the science in which they are engaged and to communicate the societal impact of that science with clarity to persons who have not had the benefit of such training. The concept of training Base Pair students to become “Communicators of Science” to the lay public is fundamental to the program. Students generally gain better discipline skills, as well as enhanced composure, confidence and self esteem by functioning as advanced students in an adult working environment. Many students (approximately one-third of all participants) have been sufficiently successful in their research as to serve as a co-author/presenter of their work in a professional scientific forum. Citations of such scientific presentations become part of the formal scientific literature and are credentials that will follow a student throughout his/her career – whether that career is directly related to science or not. Finally, and by no means of the least importance, the unique nature and national stature of the Base Pair program is looked upon extremely favorably by college and university admissions officers.

In summary, the principal benefits for participation in Base Pair are:

  • Advanced science training
  • Career orientation
  • Training as “Communicators of Science”
  • Enhanced discipline and esteem
  • Academic graduation credit
  • The possibility of scientific presentation/publication

What are the responsibilities of students in Base Pair?

A Base Pair student must be prepared to embark on a year-long period of rigorous academic learning, both in the classroom, in the mentor’s laboratory and particularly, as a result of independent, inquiry-based study. They must be willing to accept personal responsibility for their conduct, both during classroom activities at Murrah High School and at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Attendance issues are of paramount importance. Students remain under State laws pursuant to school attendance, even during the time spent on the Medical Center campus. The Base Pair mentors devote a considerable portion of their time in supervision of the student participants. Students must be prepared to communicate on a regular basis with their mentors/mentor’s laboratory staff and keep those individuals apprised of the student’s schedule and any absences, planned or otherwise.

In summary, the basic assumptions concerning a Base Pair student are that they will be:

  • Enthusiastic
  • Curious and intellectually dynamic
  • Well-behaved
  • Punctual
  • Expected to keep the mentor informed of absences
  • Prepared to accept a reasonable degree of independence in daily activities
  • Willing and prepared to engage in directed, yet independent, study