Dozens of Canadian teens have converged at a research centre in Laval to get some hands-on learning this week.

The roughly 40 students aren’t spending this part of their summer goofing off – they’re tackling some complex science as part of an apprenticeship program at the L’Institut national de la recherche scientifique. During that week, the students will get exposed and help out on actual research, such as a study looking into how to better treat breast cancer without damaging healthy cells.

The students come from all corners of the country, including the first two ever to take part from Saskatchewan. 

Jennifer Yang is among the students taking part in the program, now in its seventeenth year. To apply she had to write a letter explaining why she should be chosen and get a teacher’s recommendation. The recent high school grad said she’s looking forward to studying health sciences.

“I think it’s really fun, a lot of people here are motivated and I get to talk with them about science,” she said.

Program coordinator Amélie Coté said the hands-on approach is vital to learning.

“Usually it’s when you’re doing hands-on experiments that you really learn,” she said. “You can give a lot of information to students like they do in high school but doing the experiment by yourself is really the way they can learn the information.”

Participant Maxime Plamondon said he’s known from a young age he wanted to be a scientist.

“It’s kind of in my blood. Ever since I was like six-years-old, my dad’s been bringing me to all his different labs, showing me what he does,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go into science.”

Over the course of the week Plamondon is working with PhD candidate Pravil Pokharel in a real lab, doing research on how to better treat urinary tract infections.

“We are at the first step to find what these proteins are doing and in the future we can target a vaccine against those proteins,” said Pokharel.

For the PhD students acting as mentors, the program can act as a reminder for why they got started on their career path.

“I can see the sparkle in their eyes for the science,” said Pokharel. “I love that. It’s not only for them. I get motivated myself.”