Peer Research Ambassadors

Embracing Failure

By Pavitra Makarla, Peer Research AmbassadorEmbracing Failure. By PRA Pavitra.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

– Thomas A. Edison

If there’s any quote that wholly represents what research is, it has to be this one.

To the budding scientist, failure might seem like the worst possible outcome in the research process. Maybe you’ve attempted to run some code that continually gives back an error, or maybe you’ve hypothesized something that turned out to be the complete opposite of what you thought. Theoretically, failure is something you’d want to avoid, right?

I think it’s the opposite — you should embrace the concept of failure. Failing shows you what doesn’t work, and you can use that information to find out what actually does work. While the specific challenges you will encounter in research can vary from lab to lab, there are ways to deal with and overcome failures.

First and foremost, your failures don’t define your progress, so remember to think positively. It’s important to internalize this thought while you’re conducting research. Yes, maybe part of the path ahead includes rejection of proposals, but push past all that. The reason your proposal was rejected was that someone thought it could be better — they’re showing you what went wrong, and how you can improve upon it. Twist your roadblocks into something positive and you’ll find that you become more productive and progress faster.

Second, take the time to understand why you failed. Something I came to learn as a researcher is that failing is only as useful as what you learn from it. Many people that I talk to, including myself, forget to dissect the reason that they failed. This can hinder your progress, because chances are, you’ll keep repeating your mistakes again and again if you don’t understand what went wrong. Learning from your failures and mistakes can help you eliminate wrong paths and focus on the right ones. Take time after you make a mistake to figure out why, and adjust your point of focus in a new direction.

Third, don’t take failure personally. Failure is very common throughout the research process, and thinking that you failed because you weren’t good enough couldn’t be farther from the truth! Take failure at its face value: a goal or objective wasn’t met. That doesn’t mean that you, yourself, are to blame– you just didn’t reach your goal yet, and that’s okay! It can take researchers years and years to achieve their goals. Refocus, breathe, and keep going.

Last, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your mentors, the graduate students in the lab, and your PIs are there to help you! They understand what it’s like to not get something right the first, the second, or even the third time, and can give you detailed advice on what to fix. While they can’t amend the failure for you, they can show you where you went wrong and give you tips on how to work around it, especially since they’ve probably encountered the same issues in their academic careers as well.

Research is almost like solving a maze — You start out with one entry point, but you soon find that there are a multitude of twists and turns you can take. You try one path, and maybe it leads to a dead-end. So, you retrace your steps, make a different turn, and you repeat until you find your way to the exit — until you find the solution. Just like that, you haven’t failed; you’ve just found numerous ways that won’t work, and adjusted your routes to find the way that does work.

Pavitra is a senior majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in Neuroscience and Psychological Sciences. Click here to learn more about Pavitra.

Overcoming Research Challenges

By Shreya Murthy, Peer Research AmbassadorOvercoming Research Challenges. By PRA Shreya.

Its 11pm at night and you have to send some materials to your PI on your research project the next morning. All of a sudden, your computer screen goes blue, then black, then won’t turn on again; your computer just crashed with all of your research inside.

Participating in research is a really wonderful and engaging experience and helps students in so many personal and professional ways. However, when situations such as the above computer crash happen, things get a little more interesting. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Anisha Jain

Meet Anisha Jain ’21, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Pathobiology and minoring in Molecular & Cell Biology.

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

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and it’s more severe form non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), typically arise in individuals who are obese. In these cases, typically weight loss is the treatment option. In recent years physicians have discovered a large proportion of non-obese individuals who develop NASH. The pathogenesis and treatment of this distinct disease phenotype is not well understood. Since weight loss isn’t a viable option for non-obese individuals, my research aims to better understand the disease mechanism for NASH, as well as identify pharmaceutical and nutritional methods to mitigate steatosis and inflammation in mouse models of lean NASH.

Why did you get involved in research?

My dad is a physician in academia and his involvement in research has always been a large part of his identity, which he often shared our family.  We would often travel to conferences both national and international to hear my dad and his colleagues present, as well as I’d frequently visit his office. Through all of this I was consistently surrounded by brilliant, awe-inspiring physicians and scientist who shaped my idea of research and academics. In the end I’m grateful to my dad and his brilliant colleagues who made research an exciting prospect and instilled the desire to be like them. In high school was accepted into a science research program in which I began to actually participate in this research I grew up hearing about. It was mentors in those few years, especially Dr. Karin Finberg,  who deepened my curiosity and appreciation for research and eventually gave me the critical thinking and technical skills which enabled me to design an IDEA grant project.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

There’s a dichotomy of undergraduate research: don’t feel rushed to get involved, but it’s there for you if you want it at any point in time. I am an example of getting involved in research very early in my life and academic career, which means that it’s there for anyone at any point, but it’s best to find ways to prime your curiosity. What I mean by that is listen to seminars, read papers, talk to professors, inside and outside of your academic major. Find things that excite you and that you’re passionate about, and keep an open mind.

What are your plans after graduation?

I hope to apply into M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree programs and study to become a physician-scientist. In short, my career will hopefully be completely research-centered.

Click here for more information on Anisha and other OUR Peer Research Ambassadors.

The Importance of Mentors

By Anisha Jain, OUR Peer Research AmbassadorThe Importance of Mentors. By PRA Anisha.

Why do we need mentors anyway?

Learning can become onerous for anyone and often we feel its weight on our shoulders. Competitiveness in academic culture can become toxic. Having good mentors can help one to navigate the obstacles faced in academic culture. Mentors instill their passions and interests which not only can define our professional lives but impart critical and fundamental experiences in research. I owe a lot to my mentors. The ones who spend hours sitting with me and teaching. The ones who give me opportunities to make my own mistakes. The ones who believed in me even when I didn’t know what I was doing. Mentors give us access to various academic resources, mold us into professionals, and help guide us towards our goals. Continue reading

Starting Off With Self-Advocacy

By Brendan Hogan, OUR Peer Research AmbassadorStarting off With Self-Advocacy. By PRA Brendan.

Getting started in research can be tricky. There are many details to consider. You may be wondering what kind of research you want to do, when you want to work on a project, or even who to contact in order to get started. Out of all these concerns, one of your priorities should be ensuring that you advocate for yourself while working under, or in collaboration with, a mentor.

It can be daunting to advocate for yourself when you are trying to successfully land a research position without any experience. You may want to take the first offer you are given. Once involved, you may try to avoid any conflict or differences of opinion with your mentor. Getting involved in research does not have to conflict with your ability be your own advocate. Incorporating self-advocacy into your research experience will allow you to make the most of the experience and fully realize your goals. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Kerry Morgan

Meet Kerry Morgan ’21, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Allied Health Sciences and Molecular & Cell Biology.

Meet the PRAs: Kerry.What is the focus of your research?

I have been working in Dr. James Li’s lab at UConn Health since the beginning of June 2019. My project focuses on tracing lineages of cells throughout cerebellar development. We use genetically modified mice to replicate human models of gene expression, and we analyze the resulting phenotypes. The specific mouse lines used for my project focus on the upregulation and downregulation of the ERK kinase cellular signaling pathway. By doing this, we can observe the effects on a specific type of cell, specifically the granule cells. This research has the potential to uncover the developmental activity of specific lineages and clusters of cells, which contributes to the overall picture of how cerebellar cell types interact through molecular signaling during development.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research for a lot of different reasons. First off, I wanted to find a project that I was really passionate about. I didn’t want to get involved just for the sake of having it on a resume, rather I wanted a meaningful research experience that I could learn from. While classes teach you basic information, it is easy to simply memorize and move on with your life. I wanted to go further into the science behind what is learned in class. Research is a real life application of the things you learn in class; it is hands on rather than written on a PowerPoint in a classroom. My current research endeavor has taught me infinitely more than I could’ve ever imagined as an undergraduate student. It still surprises me how much I learn just by going into the lab each day!

Another reason I chose to pursue research was for the purpose of building applicable skills. Research has the potential to really build on important skill sets, which can be applied in any future job field. Being able to problem solve, think creatively, and thoroughly analyze data are all skills that I wanted to learn from getting involved in research. I have always wanted to go to medical school (and am considering a combined MD/PhD), and all of the skills used in research are directly useful for treating patients. Although my research does not directly involve human subjects, I can confidently say that many of my developed skills are directly transferable to my future career path.

What advice would you give to incoming first-year students?

My main advice for an incoming freshman would be to take it slow and not rush into anything you aren’t ready for.  Freshman year is a really exciting time, but it can also be really overwhelming. I didn’t even have my first research opportunity until fall of sophomore year, which is completely normal! There is no timeline for getting involved, so taking your time and feeling everything out is sometimes the smartest move. Another thing I would recommend is looking at faculty webpages to read about their research. This may help you gauge what you are interested in, and it will help you follow along with current research being performed in a department of interest. Lastly, I would recommend broadening your horizons. Think outside of your major, and maybe you could find something really interesting that you never would have expected!

What do you enjoy the most about participating in research?

One of my favorite things about my research is that I can make what I want out of it. There are endless things to learn and know about my area of research, and it is always exciting to constantly be learning new concepts. I feel as though I can always better myself through my research, and it constantly pushes me to learn more.  Even further, the feeling of accomplishing something new is motivation enough to keep trying harder. I also love being able to contribute and make sense of what is happening around me, which is something I am able to do every day in the lab.

Describe the impact your research experience has had on you.

I feel more and more confident every day, and it has affected my overall confidence outside of the lab as well. I never thought I’d be able to conduct some of the experiments and procedures that I am currently doing in the lab, and it has given me so much hope and excitement for my future as a researcher/physician! No matter what I accomplish at school, I will always feel most proud of my work in research. I will always be able to reflect upon my experiences as an undergraduate researcher, and it has definitely changed me for the better.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

I would have to say my greatest accomplishment is being selected as a University Scholar. This is something that I was hoping to achieve as an undergraduate student, and having that become reality was very exciting. I have much more that I want to accomplish before I graduate, such as publishing a couple of papers and presenting at a conference.

Click here for more information on Kerry and other OUR Peer Research Ambassadors.

Meet the PRAs: Lily Zhong

Meet Lily Zhong ’21, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Physiology & Neurobiology and minoring in English.

Meet the PRAs: Lily.What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is the biological basis behind stress and anxiety, specifically through characterizing the anatomy and functionality of a certain neural circuit in the mouse brain implicated in stress- and anxiety-related behaviors.

Why did you get involved in research?

I became involved in research to apply what I learned in the classroom to a setting where I could contribute to the creation of new knowledge while also improving upon crucial transferable skills that only a research experience can offer, such as resilience, patience, and critical thinking.

What advice would you give to incoming first-year students?

Give yourself permission to explore your own unique interests in college rather than pursuing only the activities you think you “should” be doing.

What do you enjoy the most about participating in research?

What I enjoy most about participating in research is sharing and exchanging exciting findings with others, whether it be through poster presentations, lab meetings, written proposals, or research articles. Being challenged to explain what I’ve learned in these various settings has pushed me to develop a more in-depth understanding of the background and implications of my research. Similarly, learning about what others are discovering in research not only allows me to gain exposure to a lot of interesting work, but also inspires me to think critically and ask questions about new, unfamiliar topics.

Click here for more information on Lily and other OUR Peer Research Ambassadors.

Similarities and Differences in My Research Experiences

By Claire Fresher, OUR Peer Research AmbassadorSimilaries and Differences in My Research Experiences. By PRA Claire.

Many kinds of research occur on campus. Each research lab is different and unique. As a mechanical engineering student I have had the privilege of working in two labs that have shown me two different sides of what research can look like while also showing me overlap between the two. Continue reading