Author: Berkey, Melissa

Meet the PRAs – Anabelle Bergstrom

Meet Anabelle Bergstrom ’25, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador double majoring in Political Science and Philosophy and minoring in Public Policy.

Meet the PRAs - picture of Anabelle, Peer Research Ambassador.What is the focus of your research?

The areas of interest for my research are quite varied. During high school, I wrote a mock legal brief arguing in support of including women into the draft. For my Holster Scholar project, I examined how the experiences of ROTC cadets affect their career ambition. For my SURF research, I went back to my roots and conducted legal research into the influence of campaign contributions on state supreme court decisions. This academic year, I will be conducting philosophical research at the UConn Humanities Institute on the effects hyperconnectivity has on pragmatist theories of the self. I am excited to continue to broaden my horizons!

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research because I enjoy the challenge it provides. Creating a viable hypothesis, writing grant proposals, conducting the research, and analyzing data all come with challenges. Some of these can be rather unexpected at times. It is in those challenges that I feel I excel. I enjoy the intellectual puzzles that must be solved to continue projects. I have learned the most about myself as a lifelong learner through my research which is why I continue to seek more opportunities. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Romir Raj

Meet Romir Raj ’24, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Biomedical Engineering.

Meet the PRAs, picture of Romir, Peer Research Ambassador.What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is to understand the relationship between the structure of the genome and its function or if there even is a relationship at all between the two. Specifically, I am trying to deduce a relationship between chromosomal homolog pairing/interactions (genome structure) and gene expression or development (genome function).

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research because I wanted to become involved in extracurriculars on campus. I have since grown to love research and have a passion for the intricacies of research.

What advice would you give to aspiring student researchers?

If you are interested in research, be sure to give it a shot! There are so many different labs that study many unique and different things – you are sure to find your place at one and find where you will thrive as an undergraduate researcher. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Business: The Power of an Email

By Krithika Santhanam, Peer Research Ambassador

Image of the UConn Hartford campus in a painterly style with text: "Student Research Blog: Let's Talk Business: The Power of an Email. By PRA Krithika"Professors at UConn are engaged in cutting-edge research, teaching classes, grading, meetings, and appointments. In other words, while professors are going through their daily schedule, their inbox is constantly flowing with new emails from students, faculty, and staff for a number of reasons. If you’ve sent emails to faculty and haven’t heard back, you’re not alone!

It’s important to remember that when a professor doesn’t respond to your email or cannot offer you a conversation about their research, it is not a reflection of you and your abilities. It’s easy for your email to get lost in the crowd and honestly, for the professor to just miss it. There are things that you can do to make a positive first “virtual” impression, to set yourself up for success, and to stay away from common pitfalls. Here are some tips and tricks for emailing that I’ve learned along the way: Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Sana Gupta

Meet Sana Gupta ’24, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Statistics and minoring in Mathematics.

Meet the PRAs - picture of Sana, Peer Research Ambassador.What is the focus of your research?

I am working on an IDEA Grant project in the Statistics department, focused on the imputation of compositional missing data. I am using a statistical programming language called R to test different functions on my dataset with percentage data to figure out a way to fill in the gaps in the data. I also help with data analysis and writing manuscripts in a lab in the Allied Health department.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved with research because I wanted to apply what I’ve learned in my classes to a project where I could learn and potentially develop something new. I also appreciate the opportunity to improve my research skills as I prepare to apply to graduate school.

What advice would you give to aspiring student researchers?

Don’t be afraid to explore outside of your department when looking for research opportunities. There are many unexpected places you could apply your skills and learn something new, and looking outside of the box can allow you to apply your coursework in unique ways beyond the scope of your major’s curriculum. This can also be an opportunity to explore interests you might have outside of your field of study, and college is the perfect time to foster those interests and grow your skills. Continue reading

Tips for Starting an Independent Research Project

By Grace Vaidian, Peer Research Ambassador 

An arial picture of the UConn Storrs campus in a painterly style with text: "Student Research Blog: Tips for Starting an Independent Research Project, By PRA Grace."As I transitioned from conducting research in high school to embarking on a new academic journey in higher education at UConn, I couldn’t help but notice some distinct differences in the research landscape. Back in high school, my research endeavors were predominantly solitary. I would conceive a project idea, gather the data, write a research paper, and even compete in science competitions, all largely on my own. However, once I became an undergrad at UConn, I quickly realized that the normal approach to research was notably different.

Here at UConn, a prevalent avenue for delving into research is to reach out to professors and join their existing projects. While the structure and guidance that this approach offers can be undeniably valuable (it’s how I obtained the research opportunities I’m currently working on!), there are students who feel like they have a brilliant research idea of their own but lack the know-how to bring these projects to life. I’m here to offer some tips on how to initiate and successfully navigate an independent research project. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Emma Beard

Meet the PRAs - picture of Emma, Peer Research Ambassador.Meet Emma Beard ’24, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and minoring in Physiology & Neurobiology.

What is the focus of your research?

Broadly, my research focus is the Drosophila male germline. Previously, I looked at asymmetric stem cell division of male germline stem cells. During asymmetric stem cell division, newly synthesized histone H3 is inherited by the differentiating daughter cell, while preexisting H3 is inherited by the daughter stem cell. I worked on visualizing this asymmetric inheritance through live imaging of Drosophila testes, and also investigated the effects of perturbing asymmetric H3 inheritance. Currently, I am more focused on the later stages of Drosophila spermatogenesis. I am investigating the relationship between the expression of fertility factors on the Y chromosome and transposable elements in spermatocytes.

Why did you get involved in research?

I first became interested in research by hearing others talk about their research projects. I was really inspired by the passion people had for exploration in their field. I have also always loved lab classes, both in high school and college, so I thought the best way for me to get involved in research was in a lab. While I enjoy all aspects of research like reading papers and presenting my work, I will always be most fascinated by the techniques I get to use at the lab bench. Continue reading

Misconceptions About Undergraduate Research

By Lucie Lopez, Peer Research Ambassador

Picture of the Student Union Green on the UConn Storrs campus in a painterly style with text: Student Research Blog, Misconceptions About Undergraduate Research. By PRA Lucie.“Why do I need research? I don’t need to write an Honors Thesis.”
“I can’t do research; I’m not a STEM major.”
“Why should I do research? I’m not going to medical school.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? Have you said or thought these yourself? If you’re asking yourself these questions or if you’re skeptical about getting involved in research, read on.

Close your eyes and picture a “researcher.” The image that probably popped into your head was a person in a white lab coat sitting at a lab bench, working with a pipette and a microscope. That person is a researcher, but they represent only a fraction of what research looks like.

Before coming to UConn, I didn’t know what research could look like. I was stuck on the image of the person in the white lab coat. However, as I became more involved with research, I realized it didn’t have to look like that. As an undergraduate researcher working on an IDEA Grant project investigating the relationship between participation in free/reduced school meal programs and sense of belonging at school, I collect quantitative survey data and qualitative interview data. I spend a lot of time at my computer reading previously published research papers, creating surveys, and statistically analyzing data. The type of researcher I am is another tiny fraction of what it looks like to be engaged in research.

For an English major, research could involve reviewing literature archives and writing a literature review summarizing what they read and how it can contribute to a more extensive investigation. The SHARE Summer Apprenticeship program supports social sciences, humanities, and arts students. This program is geared towards first- and second-year students from underrepresented backgrounds with little to no research experience. In addition, research does not only involve analyzing data or literature. Research can also include creative and community service projects. The IDEA Grant program supports various creative projects, from documentaries to composing music to puppetry. Engaging in research will look different for everyone! Continue reading

Leaning Into Ignorance

By Riley Beckham, Peer Research Ambassador

Student Research Blog - Leaning Into Ignorance, by PRA Riley.Almost a year and a half ago, I was nearing the end of my sophomore year at UConn. As an Electrical Engineering major, I was getting my first look at upper division course work, finally starting to peel back the curtain on what people in my field do on a daily basis. I’ll be honest; it terrified me.

I, like most people, don’t like the feeling of not understanding something. Worse still is the feeling of not even being able to describe your lack of understanding, because that would require you to understand any number of other complicated things to put your ignorance in context. It’s a feeling rife with anxiety, and it is this uneasy feeling that washed over me as I continued to work through my courses in the Spring of 2022. Had I made the wrong choice of major? Was this just not in the cards for me? Was I to blame, was it some failure on my part, some personal defect? Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this…

I knew these questions were normal to an extent, especially at the halfway mark of my undergraduate journey. But that did little to allay my fears, and another question began to burn into my mind; What can I do to make this feeling go away?

Eventually, I was convinced by people close to me to investigate the possibility of getting involved in research. Several of my friends had great experiences with research, and they thought I could get something positive out of it. At first, I was very hesitant. “Who would want to take me on as a researcher?”, I remember thinking to myself. “I don’t know anything. I’m barely keeping up with my classes and I have no confidence in my knowledge or experience.” Despite these misgivings, after a brief search process and some exploratory meetings with faculty, I managed to land a summer job as an undergraduate research assistant at the UConn Eversource Energy Center. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Darren Lee

Meet Darren Lee ’25, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology.

Meet the PRAs, picture of Darren, Peer Research Ambassador.What is the focus of your research?

Broadly, I’ve been interested in studying the interactions between organisms and their microbial communities. During my first year, I worked on a Holster Scholar project with Dr. Jonathan Klassen from MCB on fungus-growing ants, which cultivate a co-evolved fungus as their main food source. Work from the lab showed that the ants responded to chemical signals from pathogens, so we wanted to understand how this response was communicated between the ants and fungus. For my project, I evaluated how the ants’ behavior was affected by whether the fungus was alive or dead.

I’ve also worked in Dr. Joerg Graf’s lab, which studies the bacterial community of the European medicinal leech. The leech is an interesting model system since its digestive tract contains a relatively simple microbial community. We experimentally evolved Aeromonas veronii (one of the dominant community members) to look for genetic changes that might confer an advantage in colonizing the leech, then made a mutant A. veronii with the changes we observed to see if they affected the bacterium’s ability to colonize.

Since this summer, I’ve been in Dr. Yanjiao Zhou’s lab at UConn Health where I’ve done some data analysis for several ongoing studies in the lab. So far, I’ve worked on a study looking at a walnut diet in mice—walnuts have a unique nutrient profile that’s been linked to several positive health effects, so we were interested to see if long-term supplementation would lead to lasting changes in the mouse gut microbiome and metabolism.

Why did you get involved in research?

I’ve been a gardener for the longest time, and this has really made me appreciate the idea that there’s a whole world beneath our feet that’s intricately linked with the plants and animals that we can see. When I came to UConn, I was interested in doing microbiology research to pursue this curiosity, and I would say that although it’s taken me in an unexpected direction, I’ve had a really enriching experience so far! Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Grace Vaidian

Meet Grace Vaidian ’24, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and Drugs, Disease, and Illness (individualized major) and minoring in Psychological Sciences.

Meet the PRAs, picture of Grace, Peer Research Ambassador.What is the focus of your research?

In the past I have done research on drug repurposing, which is the process of identifying new therapeutic uses for old / existing drugs. Currently I am involved in a project related to how personality may affect medication adherence. For this project I am working with Dr. Nathaniel Rickles from UConn’s Pharmacy department as well as St. Francis Hospital. Additionally, I work in Dr. John Salamone’s lab, which focuses on neuropsychopharmacology research.

Why did you get involved in research?

I was motivated to get involved in research because it allows me to have an outlet where I have the freedom to pursue my passions / interests. Research gives me a space to let my curiosity flow freely.

What advice would you give to aspiring student researchers?

The advice I would give to aspiring student researchers would be to take everything as a learning experience. You don’t have to be an expert on something to start pursuing research on that topic. Along the way you will learn the skills and information you need. Continue reading