GRES: Pioneering Initiatives for Student Involvement and Education in Genomic Sciences and Policy

January 3, 2022
Research Archives

By Nishka Mittal, published in our 2015-16 issue

(Much of the information in this article is drawn from an interview conducted with Lucy Wan (’16), President of GRES).

What is genomics? Why is the field of genome sciences important? How can genomics research help solve pressing global problems, and what are the implications of using these new technologies on society?

Duke’s Genome Research and Education Society (GRES) is a student-run organization that is interested in answering these questions and more. With a mission to “promote scholarship and research in the genome sciences and policy within Duke and the surrounding community,” GRES organizes various activities and events throughout the year that provide unique opportunities for students to learn more about genomics research and engage in education and outreach in the Durham community.

In 2009, students who had taken part in the Genome FOCUS program for first year students chartered GRES. It was originally founded under the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy (IGSP), which has since reorganized in 2014 into three different collaborations. GRES remains connected to all three: The Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, the Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine, and the Duke Initiative for Science and Society. In a DukeToday article about the evolution of IGSP, Dean of Duke Medical School Nancy Andrews stated, "Today, genomics impacts everything from comparative studies of primate evolution, to the diagnosis of infection before symptoms have appeared, to the discovery of new genetic disorders in individual patients.

New programs emerging from the success of IGSP will define a next generation of genome science and its applications." GRES plays a significant role in this collaboration by promoting education and awareness amongst undergraduates and emphasizing the necessary integration of genomics research, policy, ethics, and society for progress.

GRES holds a myriad of events and organizes various programs throughout the year. One of its founding pillars and perhaps the most well-known of its programs, GRES’s Faculty Dinner series provides a unique opportunity for students to engage in discussion with Duke faculty members and learn more about their fields, research, and life stories over dinner. The faculty represent a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, from biology and medicine to English, law and policy. Last year’s attendees included Dr. Mohamed Noor (professor of the Bio 202 gateway course), Dr. Avshalom Caspi (professor of developmental psychology), and Dr. Ahmad Hariri (professor of psychology and neuroscience). GRES also has a mentoring program whereby students, usually freshmen and sophomores, are paired with students that are conducting genomics research and are encouraged to shadow them for a few hours in the lab. This is a great way for underclassmen to expose themselves to the research opportunities available on campus, learn how to get involved in research of their own, and meet peers with similar interests.

GRES also actively reaches out to Durham’s community, with an emphasis on the youth, through several initiatives. About four to five times per semester, GRES holds volunteering events at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. Volunteers plan and lead fun genomics-related activities for children such as building DNA models, extracting DNA from fruit, and PTC testing. GRES Science Through Stories is an event held at the East Regional Library where Duke students read science-themed children’s books aloud to kids, promoting both learning through reading and the excitement of science. Explore Biotech is an initiative that connects undergraduates to Research Triangle Park and, through dinners and presentations, allows them to learn about the opportunities available in biotech from leaders of various biotech firms.

“DNA Week” is hosted by GRES in April, which is a week-long celebration involving various genomics-themed events. Last year, programming included talks and dinners with members of the biotech community, a discussion on the genetics of Harry Potter, and a reception to connect current and prospective students interested in studying the genome sciences and policy.

The leadership of GRES hopes to continue expanding and improving these programs in addition to thinking of new ways to bridge the gaps between science, research, policy, and community. They hope to hold more general body meetings for students to be able to reflect on group’s progress, and they are also planning an outreach collaboration with Gente Aprendiendo por Nuevas Oportunidades, a service organization that provides ESL tutoring to Spanish-speaking adults in Durham.

Through the uniqueness and diversity of its programs, GRES aims to allow students flexibility in taking advantage of the opportunities that interest them the most. The students that GRES attracts the most come from diverse academic backgrounds, but ultimately share a passion for research, mentorship, and outreach. Though focused on genome sciences and policy, the group encourages engagement from anyone that is generally interested in science and research. To get involved, email to sign up for the weekly email listserv.


"Duke Announces Reorganization of Genome Sciences." DukeToday. N.p., 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2015. <>.

Wan, Lucy. Personal interview. 11 Dec. 2015.

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