Author: Berkey, Melissa

Meet the PRAs – Poorna Balakumar

Meet Poorna Balakumar ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology, Pathobiology, and Asian Arts, Culture, and Feminism.

What is the focus of your research?

I currently conduct research under Dr. Geary in the Pathobiology Department. The focus of my research is to understand the mechanisms of how different microbial pathogens cause respiratory disease in humans, and to develop vaccines against these pathogens.

I also started conducting researching under Dr. Cohen in the Drama Department. The focus of my research there is to explore the different representations of gender in Indian theatre throughout history, and to analyze the gendered experience of first-generation women learning Indian classical dance transnationally. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs – Drew Tienken

Meet Drew Tienken ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring in Environmental Science and Political Science.

Meet the PRAs - DrewWhat is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is how to prevent the degradation of coastal wetlands against accelerated sea level rise associated with climate change! Salt marshes and other tidal wetlands are at risk of drowning, and I study how to mitigate the effects of high water levels while maximizing many of the important ecosystem services salt marshes provide.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research because I found myself wanting to know more, and constantly asking deeper questions in class about environmental systems I was interested in. For me, research is a way to explore the world around me and learn more about the environmental mechanisms that drive the functions of the planet. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Michelle Antony

Meet Michelle Antony ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring Molecular & Cell Biology and Community Health.

Meet the PRAs - Michelle Antony.What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is to develop cartilage repair approaches for individuals with joint injury who are at risk for developing osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease of the cartilage.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got started in undergraduate research because it was an opportunity to supplement what I was learning in the classroom, and it allowed me to gain more insight into the process of scientific inquiry. Being at UConn Health and getting involved in biomedical research gave me an appreciation for the bench to bedside process where research results from the laboratory can be taken into the clinic. As an aspiring physician, the ability to work on cutting-edge research that can directly affect patient health is so exciting. Continue reading

Imposter Syndrome

By Mahima Mehta, Peer Research Ambassador

Imposter Syndrome. By PRA Mahima.It’s easy to get in your head. I do it a lot. It’s especially easy when you’re surrounded by people you admire, people who obviously know what they are talking about.

For many of us undergraduates, research is a new and exciting opportunity. There is so much that comes with joining a lab. Think about your first lab meeting. You’ve made it past the interview stage and now you’re sitting beside your new labmates. They’re giving their elevator pitch about their research. Or maybe you are going over a research paper together. What are you thinking to yourself? Oh my god, what am I going to say when it’s my turn? They know I’m new to this. What if I say the wrong thing? Everyone starts somewhere. I don’t even know what they’re talking about. I don’t belong here– Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Alex Clonan

Meet Alex Clonan ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Molecular & Cell Biology.

Meet the PRAs - Alex.What is the focus of your research?

Currently the main two projects that I have been focusing on are my undergraduate research project in the Escabi Lab in the Biomedical Engineering department, as well as a social impact project I have been working on through the Change Grant. In my engineering lab, I work with auditory signal analysis and physiological model experiments of the auditory system. With my Change Grant, I am trying to incorporate STEM education for engineering into a clinical pediatric setting, to improve engagement in STEM from a young age. Continue reading

Different Lenses: The Value of Multidisciplinary Research

By Alex Clonan, Peer Research Ambassador

Different Lenses: The Value of Multidisciplinary Research. By PRA Alex.Research is all about asking questions, each one viewed through a different lens and perspective. Our academic background, experiences, passions, and interests shape these different lenses. Together, a diverse community of investigators can work to ask questions and strive towards understanding.

I’ll tell you a little bit about my lens. As a first-year Electrical Engineering student, I applied to the Health Research Program and ended up having the opportunity to work at the Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health. To be honest, leading up to my first day in the lab, I was terrified, having little to no experience in whatever ‘systems biology’ was, but I was eager to learn. I wasn’t quite sure how my engineering background would fit in, or what I would be able to contribute. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Claire Fresher

Meet Claire Fresher ’22, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Mathematics.

Meet the PRAs - Claire.What is the focus of your research?

I conduct research as part of the Tarakanova Research Group, a biomedical/mechanical engineering lab, where I analyze metabolites that undergo aggregation in the body which is linked to the development of various diseases.

Another research team I am a part of is the Neurobiology of Individual Differences in Language Lab where I administer neuropsychological assessments to families to test the effects of environmental and genetic factors on cognitive development skills including language, math, and reading comprehension. Continue reading

It’s Okay to Change Directions

By Elisa Shaholli, Peer Research Ambassador

It's Okay to Change Directions. By PRA Elisa.When synthesizing ideas  – whether it be for a research project, a plan for a class paper, or even just an idea for something personal like a DIY project –  I fall into the line of thinking of ‘this idea needs to be completely thought out and perfect.’ The more fool-proof the plan, the better the idea, because if it changes directions, that means my project wasn’t great to begin with and I’m doing it all wrong, right?

Well….. It’s actually the opposite! Continue reading

Shifting Gears: The Importance of Questioning Your Research Interests

Shifting Gears: The Importance of Questioning Your Research Interests. By PRA Kynza.By Kynza Khimani, Peer Research Ambassador

When people talk about their research experiences, they often focus on the positives. But what do you do when your research experience is not what you expected it to be? What if your academic interests and career goals have shifted?

If you find yourself asking one of these questions, then you may be able to relate to my research journey. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Elisa Shaholli

Meet Elisa Shaholli ’23, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Economics and minoring in English and Global Studies.

Meet the PRAs - Elisa Shaholli.What is the focus of your research?

I do research in the field of Disability Studies! It’s a field that’s interdisciplinary and can span from Economics to English to Psychology and more. I’ve done a research project concerning the analysis of disability in film (a project that was primarily rooted in the English discipline), a project about the social experience of diabetes and disability “passing” (a project rooted in social sciences), and am planning on making Economics and disability a focus for my thesis!

Why did you get involved in research?

In high school, whenever I learned about disability or disease in any context, it was always biomedical or scientific. I never was really exposed to disability in regards to history or sociology or even in literary texts, even though a very large portion of the world population has a disability of some kind. I wanted to work on research concerning disability in social contexts, and Disability Studies was the perfect field for that. Hopefully through my research, people can at least learn a bit more than they originally did! Continue reading