Graduating PRA Spotlight: Mahima Mehta ’22

PRA Grad Reflections - Mahima Mehta.Mahima Mehta ’22
Major: Molecular & Cell Biology; Minor: Spanish
2021-22 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

As the eldest daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student, I knew my time in college was undoubtedly going to be different from what I’d seen portrayed in popular media. Now, when I reflect on my four years here at UConn, I don’t think I had the slightest idea that I would be graduating with so many wonderful experiences under my belt – let alone the abundance of research.

When I first met my BIOL 1108 TA,  Jessica Gutiérrez, I didn’t know much about research and what it entailed. My perception of it was just that it was something beyond my abilities. However, through a few conversations with her, I realized just how exciting research can be. More importantly, I learned that it was something someone like me could participate in. With her help, I joined Dr. Sarah Knutie’s lab and began studying host-parasite interactions in Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. As someone who was never particularly interested in birds or bugs, this was a new experience for me. I was fascinated by the questions being investigated in Dr. Knutie’s lab, but was afraid that as a pre-med student, I wouldn’t belong in the lab. I didn’t know the first thing about ecology. Thankfully, the biggest lesson I learned through research was the importance of being curious and asking questions. Through the countless opportunities to interact with graduate students and my peers, I was able to learn more about the other questions being investigated in the lab and just how much parasites impact our lives, as well as the value of my own input and ideas.

One of the most exciting experiences I had while participating in research was the creation of my own independent research project through the Office of Undergraduate Research’s IDEA Grant and eventually presenting my work at Frontiers. I’ve always been interested in how our changing environment impacts our health, and was able to construct my own project exploring how elevated nest temperatures affect the DNA methylation of Eastern Bluebirds. Aside from wanting to learn to perform molecular procedures such as DNA extractions, I’d always wanted to learn more about coding and bioinformatics. The analysis portion of this experiment allowed me to learn how to program and it became one of the most rewarding aspects of the project. I am incredibly grateful for the help of the OUR and Dr. Knutie’s lab for their support and encouragement in pursuing my interests.

As a lover of science, I find my time participating in research has finally given me the ability to call myself a scientist.

Next Steps:

I hope to continue my research in a more clinical regard in my future career, as I plan to eventually go to medical school. Excitingly, in the beginning of August, I’ll be presenting my IDEA Grant research project at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America held in Montréal, Canada!

My Advice:

Science, and everything really, is formed on the basis of asking questions. I encourage you to continue to ask questions. My advice to any UConn student is to never stop being curious. Your questions and passions are valid, and you should pursue what excites you.

Click here to learn more about Mahima.