Author: Berkey, Melissa

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Emma Beard ’24

Emma Beard ’24
Major: Molecular & Cell Biology; Minor: Physiology & Neurobiology
2023-24 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

Most of all, I believe that my undergraduate journey has taught me the value of patience, resilience, and exploration. Starting college in the middle of a pandemic was an incredibly difficult experience. I came to UConn with goals of what I wanted to achieve as an undergraduate and felt frustrated when reaching those goals felt impossible. I knew in high school that I wanted to be involved in undergraduate research, but with the pandemic keeping campus closed, that goal was put on hold. Once campus opened up again, I had a hard time finding a lab to join on-campus, and began to worry that, as I approached the halfway point of my undergraduate studies, it would be harder for me to find a lab willing to spend the time to train me.

Luckily, I was able to join the Health Research Program the summer after my sophomore year, which has had an incredible impact on my growth as a researcher. I would not have been able to have this opportunity without the experience of my first two years. If I had joined a lab at Storrs, I would never have gotten to learn about the fascinating research at UConn Health. Even if I had joined the HRP one year earlier, I might not have met my research mentor. By waiting until after my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to take courses in cell biology, a part of the MCB major I was initially disinterested in, and discover my enthusiasm for the subject. I have now been a member of the Department of Cell Biology at UConn Health for two years!

Although I was initially disheartened by the setbacks I experienced in my first two years at UConn, I am now grateful for the time I was given to further explore my interests before getting involved in research. There will always be obstacles to overcome, but now I have a better appreciation for the value of working my way through these challenges and growing through the process.

Next Steps:

I am very excited to continue my education in the Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Science at UConn Health this fall! My decision to join this program was heavily influenced by both my research experience and the Office of Undergraduate Research itself. I was first introduced to UConn Health through the Health Research Program in the summer of 2022. Since then, I have gotten the chance to learn more about what it means to be a researcher and also engage with the research community at UConn Health. My experience as part of the HRP not only solidified my interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and research as a career, but also my desire to spend my next chapter at UConn Health!

My Advice:

It might sound silly but read the UConn Daily Digest. All of the most meaningful opportunities I have had as a UConn undergraduate were things I first discovered in the Daily Digest. When I was having trouble finding a lab to join in Storrs, I saw a posting about the HRP, through which I was able to join the lab of my current research mentor. Throughout my involvement with undergraduate research, I turned to the PRA blogs for advice. When I saw a call for PRA applications in the Daily Digest, I knew I wanted to be able to provide the same guidance for other undergraduate researchers and applied for the position. I’ve gone to incredible presentations, performances, and events I never would have found without the Daily Digest. Next time, give the Daily Digest a look; I promise it’s not just inbox clutter!

Click here to learn more about Emma.

Tips for Successful Collaborative Research Projects

By Grace Vaidian, Peer Research Ambassador

Picture of the center of the UConn Storrs campus in a painterly style with text: Student Researc h Blog: Tips for Successful Collaborative Research Projects. By PRA Grace.In my previous blog post “Tips for Starting an Independent Research Project”, I provided advice on developing a self-driven research project. While the pursuit of independent projects is undeniably valuable, the reality for many undergraduate students seeking research involves participation in collaborative research. Solo projects need funding and resources, which can be hard to obtain alone. Collaborative projects often offer more accessible routes into research, leveraging existing resources and established teams. This could be through a research lab or joining a professor’s ongoing study. In this blog, I will explore key tips for successful collaborative research projects, drawing from personal experiences and lessons learned.  Continue reading

Stuck in a Research Rut? This Might Be Why

By Darren Lee, Peer Research Ambassador

Picture of a sculpture on the UConn Storrs campus in a painterly style with text: Student Research Blog: Stuck in a Research Rut? This Might Be Why, By PRA Darren.Looking back at the last three years, I can say with confidence that research is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had during my time at UConn—it’s been an incredible opportunity to dive into my field and understand the scientific process up close. However, I’ve also learned that it’s often a difficult, grinding process rife with setbacks and failures. Although it can be deeply satisfying to finally establish a protocol or collect a set of results after months of hard work, it’s equally true that a lot of the time, you feel like you’re on a long road to nowhere. Even as someone who really enjoys research most of the time, there have certainly been occasions where I’ve put my head down on the bench questioning my life decisions! Whenever I’m struck with that feeling, it helps me a lot to think about where it’s coming from. With that, let’s talk about some reasons why you might be feeling down about your research right now and what you can do to pull yourself out of it. Continue reading

Taking Research to the Next Level: Advice for Applying to PhD Programs

Aerial picture of Wilbur Cross building on the Storrs campus in a painterly style with text: Student Research Blog: Taking Research to the Next Level: Advice for Applying to PhD Programs. By PRA Lucie.By Lucie Lopez, Peer Research Ambassador

Engaging in research as an undergraduate student can lead to wanting to pursue research as a career, which comes in the form of a Ph.D. for many students. This path was true for me as my experiences as an undergraduate research assistant, SHARE (Social Sciences Humanities and Arts Research Experience) apprentice, and IDEA Grant Recipient have shaped my career goals. Once I realized I wanted to further explore research by getting a Ph.D., I embarked on the journey of applying.

When I was applying, I had many questions, but I didn’t always know who to ask because I didn’t know many people who had been through the process. However, those people who I did know were invaluable resources, as they had first-hand experience and could give me great tips and advice when going through all stages, from researching programs to interviewing.

If you’ve just started thinking about getting a Ph.D. or if you’re about to go to your first interview, I hope the tips below can help you out with the application process. Continue reading

Taking a Step Back

By Riley Beckham, Peer Research Ambassador

Picture of a lighthouse at the UConn Avery Point campus in a painterly style with text: Student Research Blog: Taking a Step Back, By PRA Riley.Almost four years ago, I began my journey at UConn pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.  Like many aspiring engineers, I knew that I had chosen a difficult major. At the time, I was excited by the challenge and eager to prove myself in my chosen field. I knew the next four years would be filled with learning and growth opportunities, and I was excited to overcome the challenges associated with this degree.

What I could not anticipate at the time was how all-consuming my academics would become. I felt like all I had time for, day and night, was school. Wake-up, go to class, come home, do homework and study well into the evening, go to bed late, wake-up the next day. Rinse and repeat, day-in and day-out. Weekends? What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than studying at the library?
Continue reading

Uncharted Waters – Research Beyond Your Major

By Krithika Santhanam, Peer Research Ambassador

Student Research Blog. Uncharted Waters - Research Beyond Your Major. By PRA Krithika.If you’ve read my bio, you know that I am a pre-medical student studying Molecular and Cell Biology. This part of my UConn story aligns with my described research experience: an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Caroline Dealy’s laboratory at UConn Health and co-president of UConn Pre-Medical Society. However, my UConn journey does not end there.

After being in a STEM laboratory for 2 years, I decided to swim into uncharted waters and pursue non-STEM research, something your typical pre-medical student might not do. I also have an individualized major in Health Policy and Racial Disparities which provoked my current research exploring the experiences of individuals with disabilities in South India through UConn’s BOLD Women’s Leadership Network and a preventative screening volunteer for UConn Health Leaders.

How did I get here, and more importantly, why did I step outside the typical pre-med path? Continue reading

Navigating Your First Conference Presentation

By Emma Beard, Peer Research Ambassador

Presenting your work is one of the most important skills a researcher can learn. One of the best ways to practice this skill and share your work with a large audience is attending a research conference. I had the opportunity to present my research at Cell Bio 2023, the American Society for Cell Biology’s annual meeting, in Boston this past December. Getting to present a poster at such a large conference was an incredible experience, but there were a few things I wish I had known going into the meeting that I hope others can learn from to make the most of their conference participation!

 1. Know your audience, especially when they are familiar with your field

This point may seem self-explanatory, but it was something I was unprepared for. Before Cell Bio 2023, I had only ever presented my research at poster sessions for UConn undergraduates like Frontiers. These events helped me develop skills in designing posters (maybe link and speaking about my research (maybe link, but since Frontiers is open to all fields of research, the way I presented was tailored to an audience less familiar with cell biology.

National or international conferences usually have a more specific focus. Cell biology is a very broad field, so not everyone was familiar with my research, but I was very excited to have a few people who worked in similar areas visit my poster! The only problem was that I had only practiced one version of my presentation that was geared towards a general cell biology audience. Whenever I gave this talk to someone in a similar field, they had many specific questions at the end that I likely could have addressed during the presentation if I had known their background. I think it would be helpful to get to know more about the people visiting the poster first to get a sense of their background, and also practice including or omitting specific details in the presentation based on each person’s research interests. Continue reading

The Three E’s of Networking

By Anabelle Bergstrom, Peer Research Ambassador

Picture of Jonathan Husky in a painterly style with the text: Student Research Blog, The Three E's of Networking, By PRA Anabelle.You’ve probably been told hundreds of times how important it is to maintain positive connections with others. Whether it be your academic, social, or professional life, there are always events you can attend that help you meet others with similar aspirations. Getting to a venue on time isn’t too hard to do. What happens when you get there? Who do you talk to if you don’t know anyone? These are all normal questions that may be in your mind as you begin to learn how to network.

I have come to enjoy attending networking events with others who have similar goals or experiences to myself. Last spring, I attended the New England Political Science Association’s annual conference to present my Holster Scholar project. Being one of the only undergraduates in attendance, I was nervous that I wouldn’t have anyone to converse with. After a few attempts, I found my own way of conversing with professors and students alike. Since then, I have grown much more comfortable networking at most events. I was not born with networking skills. Instead, I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone to practice. Not only have I gotten better at networking, but I have also built a strong support system around me which has given me new professional opportunities. Without starting a conversation with others, I may not have some of the positions I do now. Continue reading

Tools for Your Research Toolbox

By Sana Gupta, Peer Research Ambassador

Student Research Blog: Tools for Your Research Toolbox, by PRA Sana.Staying organized is an important part of being an effective student and researcher. Throughout my time as a student and an undergraduate researcher, I have had the opportunity to try out different tools that have allowed me to keep my ideas, to-do lists, and resources organized and easy to access. These tools not only help me keep my life less cluttered, but they also me to effectively communicate my work and ideas with others.

1. Reference Management Tools

A reference management tool is a program that allows a user to save papers and articles from literature reviews in folders with notes and annotations. After downloading PDFs of papers you have read or plan to read, you can upload these PDFs to the program and save them along with metadata about the paper that can be used to generate bibliographies. I personally use Zotero, which has a corresponding Safari and Google Chrome extension which can be used to save articles directly from your browser. Zotero also integrates with Google Docs and Microsoft Word, which makes it easy to add citations when drafting your own paper. Zotero folders can be shared with others so they can add papers for you to read. Continue reading

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Lina Layakoubi, Dec. ’23

Lina Layakoubi ’23
Major: Biological Sciences; Minor: Physiology & Neurobiology
Fall 2023 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

Picture of OUR Peer Research Ambassador Lina Layakoubi with text: PRA Grad Reflections, Lina Layakoubi '24.My Journey:

When I began college during the height of the pandemic, I never would have imagined that I would find myself in a research lab working with fruit flies. Yet reflecting on these past few years, I can say that undergraduate research has been the most impactful and enriching experience I have had at UConn.

For a long time, research seemed like this daunting academic feat that I could never be capable of. Though on the most basic level I understood that research was a mechanism to create new knowledge, I had no idea what it could actually look like or how I could possibly fit in. As my classes became more advanced and focused on “why” we know certain models to be accurate, my passion for biology lead me to want to participate on the hands on aspect of the field. Lab classes were great but to have the chance to contribute to current work and learn alongside a lab at an R1 school became the dream. I sought out guidance from the OUR staff and after attending Fall Frontiers twice, I was absolutely mesmerized by all the incredible projects my peers had created.

Joining Dr. Karen Menuz’s lab was one of the greatest opportunities I experienced at UCONN. On a day-to-day basis, I feel like research pushed me to grow beyond what I ever could have expected of myself. Academically, weekly journal clubs and working through concepts behind the challenges in my project made me far more scientifically literate and reframed ideas in a way my coursework never could. Being able to do my own experiments, analyze data and even write a grant proposal helped me build confidence in myself that this was something I could be a part of and this was something that would enrich my life. I had a lot of fun with various fly related tasks but more so than that, my lab became a second home at UCONN. Between the other undergrads, my PI and the grad students, our lab felt like a community and each day there was always something new and exciting. I can say one of the highlights of my time in Dr. Menuz’s lab was being able to present at Fall Frontiers. The undergraduate research symposium was where my journey began and so being able to share my project with my peers was incredibly rewarding. Looking back on myself, my time in lab truly helped me to self-realize that research is something I am passionate about and helped me to grow into a more confident version of myself.

Next Steps:

I am graduating a semester early with a BS in Biological Sciences and a minor in Physiology and Neurobiology. As of now, I’ve been accepted to five dental schools and it is up to me to decide where I would like to spend the next four years. I’ve wanted to pursue a career in dentistry for some time, but after joining a lab I now see research becoming a huge part of this career. I hope to continue research in dental school and remain engaged in academic dentistry while practicing clinically in the future.

My Advice:

My greatest piece of advice to those beginning their journey is to follow your interests regardless of your inhibitions. I spent a lot of time feeling like I couldn’t get involved because I did not understand research or believe that I was a fit for it. Never miss the chance to follow your passions! Even if you decide research is not for you, go and try it, you may fall in love with it!

Click here to learn more about Lina.