My involvement in undergraduate research began late into my freshman year when I contacted the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), Dr. Caroline McGuire, with my interests in pursuing research. She was able to guide me in how to get started with research and introduced me to a database called Lincus. I was able to use this resource to explore the research interests of faculty at UConn. This allowed me to connect with Dr. Kevin Claffey in the department of Cell Biology at UConn Health in Farmington. That summer, Dr. Claffey allowed me to help him on his project on developing a therapeutic breast cancer treatment. We identified cell-surface targeting tumor specific antibodies derived from breast cancer patient lymph nodes.
My first research experience not only allowed me to gain hands on laboratory skills, but allowed me to increase my independence and confidence in a professional setting. Making mistakes and learning from them is what improved my critical thinking skills, and working with other students allowed me to strengthen my communication and teamwork proficiency.
Although, I am incredibly proud and thankful for my experience in the Claffey lab, I wanted to explore other research topics I was interested in. My sophomore year, I applied for the pilot Health Research Program (HRP) which allows UConn undergraduates to pursue cutting-edge research at UConn Health both during the academic year and summer. I was fortunate to be selected as an HRP student in Dr. Liisa Kuhn’s biomaterials lab in the department of Biomedical Engineering, in the School of Dental Medicine. My project is on the use of biomaterials to treat growth plate injuries in mice. This opportunity allowed me to work on in vivo studies and learn techniques like paraffin and frozen histology.
At UConn Health, I was able to connect and collaborate with other research faculty which helped me when applying for professional school. Once I graduate, I will complete over two years of research in the Kuhn lab, allowing me to complete meaningful research over a long span of my undergraduate career. In addition, I was able to create two posters and present them at the annual Frontiers in Undergraduate Research symposiums. This past summer I was able continue my research, which was supported by the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF), and received a SURF Named Award, the Dr. John Tanaka Academic Enhancement Fund for Honors.
I encourage all undergrads to take advantage of the opportunities that OUR has to offer. Participating in research can allow you to apply what you learn in the classroom to the real world. Research not only allows you to develop technical skills, but also allows you to learn about yourself and strengthen interpersonal skills that may be applied to any aspect of your life. Therefore, I highly recommend contacting OUR or any Peer Research Ambassador for help to get started. I am thankful for how OUR has positively impacted my undergraduate career. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions!