Peer Research Ambassadors

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Ally Bettencourt ’21

PRA Grad Reflections - Ally Bettencourt.Alexandra (Ally) Bettencourt ’21
Pathobiology & Animal Science
2020-21 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

When I first came to UConn as a freshman, I must admit that I was one of the many pre-professional freshmen that thought undergraduate research was just a box to check off when applying for professional school. I could not have been more wrong! When an opportunity presented itself through a club’s email listserv at the end of my freshman year, I jumped on it, having no idea the path that it would lead me on. Continue reading

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Mukund Desibhatla ’21

PRA Grad Reflections - Mukund Desibhatla.Mukund Desibhatla ’21 (Physiology & Neurobiology, Spanish)
2020-21 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

My Journey:

I entered UConn with zero prior experience in research. This prompted me to search outside of the classroom for areas of academia that would excite me and catalyze my growth as a scholar.

After joining Dr. John Salamone’s psychology lab, I dove into the field of neuropsychopharmacology and explored molecular binding affinity and its effects on behavior and symptoms of depression. Receiving a SURF Award last summer accelerated the timeline of my project and allowed me to build on the foundational knowledge that has now transformed into my PNB Honors thesis.

My observation of a gap in peer mentorship led to the creation of my original leadership podcast, Agents of Change, which highlighted the success stories of fellow students and accessible campus resources that facilitate leadership development. Through the UConn IDEA Grant program, my co-host Vinayak Mishra and I expanded on this idea by hosting UConn’s first Podcast Symposium in February 2021. This event brought together professional podcasters to discuss bringing change through podcasting mediums.

For my Spanish major, I opted to write a separate Honors thesis to investigate social determinants of health in the community of Granada, Spain. Inspired by my study abroad opportunity at the University of Granada, I reached out to former mentors and interviewed them about the Spanish healthcare system and advocacy to help marginalized communities overcome barriers to healthcare. With support from an OUR Supply Award, I was able to record these international conversations and compile them into an interdisciplinary portfolio.

I grew up with a diverse South Asian musical background that showed me the power of music to evoke emotion. These observations helped me sculpt my personal goal—to direct my passion for the Indian classical arts in a direction that would create a social impact in my own community. There is a dire need for self-directed mental health therapies, so I developed a novel music therapy app to bridge this gap and in doing so, increase students’ happiness and quality of life. For this project, I have been fortunate to receive an invitation to join the Clinton Global Initiative University.

In pursuing a double major, my goal has been to touch a multitude of disciplines and explore their infinite combinations! I planted seeds that evolved into independent projects that have nurtured my curiosity and tenacity to investigate the unknown.

What’s Next:

Next year, I plan on pursuing an MPH at Yale School of Public Health in Social & Behavioral Sciences with a concentration in US Health & Justice. While I am not yet certain what type of research I will get involved in, I believe that UConn’s research network has prepared me for the next chapter.

When I look back at my time at UConn, I think about the handful of original questions I posed to the world and the journey I took to find an answer. Research is beneficial to anyone, regardless of long-term goals!

Click here to learn more about Mukund.

Graduating PRA Spotlight: Oreoluwa Olowe ’21

PRA Grad Reflections - Oreoluwa.Oreoluwa Olowe ’21 (Mechanical Engineering)
2020-21 OUR Peer Research Ambassador

What I’ve Learned:

Research has been a part of my entire college career. I am well aware that UConn is a research school. I did not expect to utilize this opportunity so well working on four different research projects. I learned a lot more about myself from each project, from interacting with team members and faculty.  I was in positions where I had the opportunity to grow.  I have gained interpersonal, communication and public speaking, and time management skills participating in research. It has been a huge learning experience being part of undergraduate research.

What’s Next:

After graduation, I plan to use the skills gained from my research experience to start my own company. The dedication to keep reading literature and running experiments when you don’t know if there is a viable solution at the end is very important. I believe it would play a role in my entrepreneurial endeavors.


Take risks. I try to take calculated risks where I account for every possible situation. However, taking risks means believing in yourself and the fact that you will succeed.

Click here to learn more about Oreoluwa.

Research Reflections: Confidence and Capability

Research Reflections: Confidence and Capability. By PRA Alexandra.By Alexandra Bettencourt, Peer Research Ambassador

Think about a time when you have said to yourself “what else could possibly go wrong?” We’ve all had those moments. The moments that feel like we can’t figure a way out of whatever challenge is holding us back. When I started my journey in undergraduate research, I never imagined that the greatest thing that it would teach me would not be a clinical laboratory skill or how to present in front of hundreds of people. The greatest thing undergraduate research could have ever taught me was to have confidence in my own capabilities, and that I have the power to solve the moments where it feels like nothing else could go wrong. And that is just what it did. Continue reading

Research Reflections: Growing Through Unexpected Challenges

Research Reflections: Growing Through Unexpected Challenges. By PRA Kerry.By Kerry Morgan, Peer Research Ambassador

When it comes to research, I have found that every experience is different in its own way, and you can never walk into an opportunity with clear expectations of what it will be like. Personally, I’ve been part of several research experiences spanning across two different campuses, and within three different departments. I first got involved in research during my Sophomore year, and at that point I was just overjoyed to have even been given an opportunity to participate in research at all. However, my interests were not yet fully developed, and I had no idea what I could expect from research, or even what else existed in the world of research. I started my journey in the Kinesiology Department, and while this was research I found very interesting, I discovered that being involved in research should go far beyond just having an interest in the work. As I reflect back on my first two research experiences, I recognize the misconceptions that I had going into each opportunity, but I am also grateful for having learned what my refined goals as a student researcher were.    Continue reading

My First Research Experience: Being Open to the Unexpected

My First Research Experience: Being Open to the Unexpected. By PRA Claire.By Claire Fresher, Peer Research Ambassador

Many things surprised me when I started my first research opportunity. I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard a few things from upperclassmen about their own experiences and had attended a couple presentations from OUR, which is what got me interested in research in the first place, but I had no idea what my personal research experience was going to be like.

Something I hadn’t expected was how many people there are in a research group to support you and how willing people are to help. When I started my research position, I was introduced to a graduate student that worked in the lab station right next to mine. She showed me around the lab space and set me up on my computer. She was always there to ask quick questions or help me with any problems I encountered, as were the other people using the lab space, even if they weren’t in my specific lab group. Continue reading

Presenting Results at a Virtual Conference

Presenting Results at a Virtual Conference. By PRA Pavitra.By Pavitra Makarla, Peer Research Ambassador

It may seem nerve-wracking at first when you begin preparing to present your research at conferences, and the prospect of doing it virtually can be even more intimidating. I’m here to tell you that online presentations are not as difficult as you think it might be — all it takes is some extra preparation and a little bit of confidence.

I presented my data at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) Virtual Conference in 2020, as well as in the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Exhibitions (2020). Both conferences were vastly different in procedure, but I had to prepare essentially the same things.

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Presenting Your Research With Confidence

By Lily Zhong, Peer Research AmbassadorPresenting Your Research With Confidence

It can be intimidating to create a poster for the first time and even more nerve wracking to present your poster to others at a professional conference. I have experienced all these anxieties myself when preparing and presenting for the annual NEURON conference at Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine and multiple Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Exhibitions as well. Here are a few things to keep in mind that helped me stay calm and present with confidence. Continue reading

Preparing for a Conference Presentation

By Sarah Tsuruo, Peer Research AmbassadorPreparing for a Conference Presentation. By PRA Sarah.

Preparing, presenting and networking are what I believe to be the three major parts of attending a research conference. Personally, I’ve presented at both Yale and Harvard medical school research conferences, and while daunting, it is doable and exciting!

Pro tips: OUR’s biannual Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition is a great way to dip your toe in the “research conference” pool AND for conferences outside of UConn, don’t be afraid to submit your abstract, you never know if you’ll get accepted to present unless you apply! Continue reading

Testing the Waters

By Brendan Hogan, Peer Research AmbassadorTesting the Waters. By PRA Brendan.

I started my independent research project with the goal of expanding my analytical skills and experience in political science research, but I did not expect that it would solidify my decision to attend law school. Not only has my research solidified my direction, it has also helped me build upon and focus my career aspirations.

The Project

The summer after my junior year, I worked on an IDEA Grant research project examining the alt-right movement in the United States. I spent time exploring the projects of numerous other researchers and centers focused on countering hate groups. Through this research, I became aware of research as a career option, which is something I had not considered before. This was the first time I considered pursuing a career as a researcher.

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