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.

A Week in the Life of a Student Researcher

By Sarah Tsuruo, OUR Peer Research AmbassadorA Week in the Life of a Student Researcher. By PRA Sarah.

Welcome to a week in my life, where I’ll take you behind the scenes of my research work. As a senior undergraduate researcher, I get to work more independently and you’ll see me zipping around the lab doing some pretty cool experiments on my own!

Having been involved in research since freshman year, I am currently a part of the Bolnick Lab in the EEB department where I’m working on my Honors thesis: analyzing the sex-specific immune-endocrine response in the model organism the Threespine stickleback. I’m interested in the immune response of the stickleback to parasites which triggers a fibrosis response, and its trade-offs with the endocrine pathway and sex hormones. In this lab I’m also continuing work from my SURF project, a manuscript about sexual dimorphism in lake-stream pairs with my PI and a former postdoc from the lab. Lastly, as an extension of the work from my clinical research internship at UConn Health last fall, I am finishing up a manuscript based off a pilot study and literature review I had completed with my PI, Dr. Reichenberger. Continue reading

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.

In both labs, and probably at any lab you’ll be a part of, communication is very important. In my labs, there are weekly group meetings where all the researchers come together to share what they have been working on and to ask questions if they are stuck or need guidance. These meetings are very beneficial to see where others are at or learn about the amazing things other researchers are working on. This is a time to ask for help, which can be very important especially when starting out in research and doing tasks and using materials that you may have never seen before. There are also graduate students in both labs that are always willing and able to sit down with you and walk through the hard steps of the process since they have probably already done it before. They are a great resource to use while doing research and in the future, if you plan to go to graduate school. Continue reading

Meet the PRAs: Brendan Hogan

Meet Brendan Hogan ’21, an OUR Peer Research Ambassador (PRA) majoring in Political Science, Psychological Sciences, and Philosophy.

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

In my Freshman and Sophomore years, I participated in research that revolved around the influence of intellectual humility upon public discourse. Essentially, when someone engages in a conversation with another person over a political issue in today’s political climate, the conversation tends to go into one of two directions. When a conversation begins, it can either end with both parties either agreeing or both parties disagreeing. When both parties disagree over a topic, a hostile conversation usually is created where both sides become angry and attempt to force their opinion on the other. Thus, the researchers I worked with were trying to create a third outcome where parties instead agreed to disagree. With this, an attempt was made to have both sides acknowledge the facts of the other side and ultimately end the conversation with a humble realization that we are all trying to find a solution. Thus, the overall goals were to promote this idea that we are all attempting to solve the issues of today and need to work together as a society to compromise.

My Junior year, I worked on a project that planned to examine the role of race and the far-right in the making of the US-led postwar ‘liberal international order’. In particular, through theoretically-informed empirical analysis, the manuscript that I helped to edit worked to explain how the far-right contributed to the crystallization of a distinct racialized anticommunist politics at home crucial to US power-projection abroad.

In Spring 2020, I was awarded a summer UConn IDEA Grant to study the vice of arrogance and psychological group biases within white nationalist leaders’ online rhetoric. To carry out this project, I conducted a qualitative content analysis of various blogs written by prominent white nationalist leaders. Following the analysis, I will use the empirical data collected to inform and guide my UConn Political Science and Philosophy Dual Honors Thesis during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Why did you get involved in research?

When I was offered my initial opportunity to carry out research, I saw it as a chance to become exposed to a real life research project. From that opportunity, I hoped that I would be able to take what I learned and then carry out my own project. While the research experiment was an important aspect of the project, it was also pertinent that I became accustomed to the behind-the-scenes management and organization of a project.

In addition, I chose all these research opportunities as I felt a desire to understand these areas of political science and attempt to figure out how researchers are trying to solve the political issues of today. Without this desire to take part in these specific projects, I would not have gotten involved as the work and research may not have been enjoyable.

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

When you are jumping into college, it is easy to sign up for and commit to many extracurricular activities. If I could give you any advice, it would be to try to find a few things that you love the most and stay committed to those activities throughout your undergraduate years. Work to improve those clubs, positions, and opportunities, but also look to find a balance between your own personal life and college career. The next few years will be some of the most enjoyable years of your life, so don’t forget to take the time to not only build your resume, but to grow as an individual and find yourself.

Describe the impact your research experience has had on you.

After I finished my research around intellectual humility, I found that I have begun to approach arguments from the perspectives of both sides. This concept has really shed light on the issue of political polarization for me and has shown me that it is important to work towards compromises. With this real world application of research, this experience has left a lasting impact on my outlook in my everyday interactions with others.

What are your plans after graduation? How has involvement in research influenced your plans and prepared you for the future?

After I graduate, I plan to go to law school and eventually practice law with a concentration in constitutional law or civil rights and liberties. From my involvement in research, I have become inspired to try to see both sides in debates and conversations so that the facts of the argument can first be examined. From there, it has shown to me that no one side is necessarily always right, but rather both sides should try to meet in the middle and overcome any divides. Without people attempting to reach a middle ground, our polarized political climate will only worsen in the future. Thus, as my previous research was applicable to my area of studies, I have found that it has allowed me to grow as a political scientist, a potential lawyer, and even as an individual. It has motivated me to pursue a legal career in which I can promote positive, public discourse and intellectual humility.

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

The Importance of Connecting With Your PI

By Alexandra Bettencourt, Peer Research AmbassadorThe Importance of Connecting With Your PI. By PRA Alexandra.

I will never forget my first academic advising appointment as a freshman at UConn, because it was there that I met a mentor who would help to shape the entirety of my academic career. Prior to meeting Dr. Sarah Reed for the first time, I had read her faculty biography to learn more about her. After skimming her qualifications and publications, my eighteen-year-old self, that had just begun taking BIO 1107, was a bit intimidated by her scientific accomplishments. These feelings melted away within minutes of meeting her, as she welcomed me with a smile and genuine enthusiasm for helping guide me through my academic career and accomplish my lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian. Continue reading

How I Got Started in Research

By Oreoluwa Olowe, Peer Research AmbassadorHow I Got Started in Research. By PRA Oreoluwa.

I got started with research the second semester of freshman year. As a Mechanical Engineering major there are activities organized to allow students to get a better understanding of research or come up with ideas they wish to pursue. This was where I was introduced to my first research experience.

I decided to work on improving or developing knee braces for athletes with my fellow engineers. It was an amazing experience working with 5 other mechanical engineering students for Professor Jason Lee. I was able to develop relationship and technical skills outside of my classes. 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?

In my engineering lab I work on analyzing metabolites that undergo aggregation in the body which is linked to the development of various diseases. I work on ways to characterize the self-assembly of metabolites in the body through analysis of simulations and construction of molecular models. In my psychology lab I administer neuropsychological assessments to families to test the effects of environmental and genetic factors on cognitive development skills like language, math, and reading comprehension.

Why did you get involved in research?

I got involved in research because I wanted to pursue my specific interests in engineering and psychology. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to discover new knowledge and expand my skillset. I also wanted to gain hands-on experience in order to get an in-depth knowledge of the topics I investigated. I was also able to work closely with faculty mentors which allowed me to be challenged and think in new ways.

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

To incoming freshmen, I would say to not be scared of research and research professors. Everyone started from somewhere so start with finding out what you find most interesting and what you want to put your time and energy into learning more about. After you find your passion everything else with fall into place with a little hard work and help from mentors.

What do you enjoy the most about participating in research?

I enjoy working with my research groups and mentors the most. I have found that I can really lean on my research team when I don’t understand things or need help when I’m stuck on something. I think working with other people has also helped me to develop my own leadership and research skills since I learned from others and then implemented what they taught me in my own approach.

Describe the impact your research experience has had on you.

Research has made me a more independent and analytic thinker. I pushed myself in research to explore new topics and think outside the box which helped me to become a better student and problem solver. It has also made me more curious in the fields I study. Research has taught me to question things I don’t understand and explore more topics to give myself a better overall view.

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