Angela Gao

Meet UCLA senior, Angela Gao, who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Angela is was recently selected as a Undergraduate Collegiate Rapid Fire finalist for the Women in Engineering 2020 Conference. Awarded to 10 undergraduate students nationwide to present research at the world’s largest conference for women engineers with over 10,000 attendees.

Angela is also currently a part of our UC Leadership Excellence Through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program.

 

How did you first get involved in your research project?

In freshman year, one of my friends from my Chemistry class suggested that I participate in undergraduate research. I emailed a few professors whose work is in the field of robotics. When some of the professors didn’t respond to me, I personally knocked on their doors to ask for a conversation. Even though I had no previous experience in research or engineering, Prof. Ankur Mehta and graduate student mentor Wenzhong Yan were generous to allow me to start on a research project at the Laboratory for Embedded Machines and Ubiquitous Robots (LEMUR). At LEMUR, I performed controlled experiments that tested the strain of supercoiled polymer actuators, which were integrated in a novel controller manufactured using origami techniques.

 

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA is one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. As a first-generation college student, I found it challenging at first to understand the research process, as it is vastly different from taking classes and it is easy to get lost in a world full of technical terminologies. In my sophomore year, I was fortunate to be selected as a UC LEADS scholar advised by Prof. Veronica Santos at the Biomechatronics Lab. Under the direct guidance of Prof. Santos, I learned to be a researcher who can find support from my lab-mates and resolve problems associated with a novel research project. The faculty and staff from UC LEADS are incredibly helpful by allowing me to participate in journal clubs, practice my presentation skills, develop my leadership skills, and attend national conferences for undergraduate students. Those experiences gave me opportunities that I needed to grow both as a person and as an independent researcher.

 

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Place kindness above getting a research position. In academia, research is performed by people who have hearts and souls. From my experience, it is true that many people who learn to be highly skilled in research will become great researchers. However, great researchers who are also kind will become excellent researchers.

 

What are your future career goals?

When I had a summer research internship at UCSD advised under Prof. Mike Tolley, I realized how much I enjoy basic science, particularly biology. As a result, I decided that in graduate school, I would like to pursue a PhD in the Biomedical Sciences even though my current major is Mechanical Engineering. I am specifically interested in investigating the neurobiology of neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the next 50 years, I believe that the field of Neuroscience will be in great demand in order to relieve medical bills for the 1 in 6 people in the world population who will be 65 or older by 2050. I hope to expand the field of Neuroscience by enabling greater collaboration among neuroscientists and roboticists. The integration of knowledge of the human brain and artificial intelligence seems to be a promising next frontier of research that may revolutionize the way we think about intelligence.

Emma Dawson

Meet recent UCLA graduate, Emma Dawson, who graduated this past Spring 2020 in Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics. As an undergraduate Emma worked in the lab of Dr. Michael Teitell, whose research involves pediatric pathology.

Emma recently published her first-author paper in Scientific Reports titled “Stable retention of chloramphenicol-resistant mtDNA to rescue metabolically impaired cells”, which was previously published in the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal.

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I started working in the Michael Teitell lab a few weeks into my undergraduate career at UCLA, after having reached out to Dr. Teitell the summer prior to starting my freshman year. Additionally, I had joined the HHMI-Pathways to Success Program, directed by Dr. Tracy Johnson, that helped prepare me to ask novel scientific questions/plan experiments to test those questions. Between Dr. Johnson and my direct mentors in the Teitell lab, Dr. Alexander Patananan and Alexander Sercel, I had great mentorship and advice while getting involved in my first independent research project that I worked on through all four years at UCLA. The project I worked on involved a cool phenomenon in which cells will transfer mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) directly to another cell, known as mitochondrial transfer. This can be done as a means of promoting tissue recovery or is hijacked by cancer cells to promote cancer progression. This is a new, and very exciting field, that I feel fortunate to have contributed to through my recent publication developing a high-throughput pipeline for studying mitochondrial transfer in cells.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experiences at UCLA have completely changed my life. I was involved in research programs including the HHMI-Pathways to Success, the CARE Scholars Program, and the MARC program that all helped me succeed as a scientist. Additionally, my lab mentors and lab advisor, Dr. Michael Teitell, gave me the freedom and the confidence to ask novel questions in the field and to perform exciting experiments as a part of an independent project in the lab. These research experiences solidified my desire to continue academic research and apply for a PhD in biology.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

My biggest advice to students interested in getting involved in research is to just do it! Students have to reach out to professors and take the initiative to join a lab. There are so many resources on campus to help you find a lab and a lab environment that fit your needs. Students just have to take the initiative. And with that said, if you can join a lab earlier, rather than later, the better. I was only able to accomplish everything I did in my lab, because I was able to work and grow in that environment for four years. The longer you spend in a lab environment, the more you will get out of it.

What are your future career goals?

I am excited to be starting my PhD in the Biology program at MIT this fall. I could not be more thankful to all of my mentors that pushed me to succeed as an undergrad. I would not be where I am today without them. After my PhD, I hope to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and ultimately, pursue a faculty position at an academic institution.

Alana Dodero

Alana is a senior majoring in Mathematics and Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences. This summer she was selected as one of only six UCLA students to participate in the JIFRESSE program. As part of the program, she is currently working with mentors, Dr. Olga Kalashnikova (JPL) and Prof. Jasper Kok (UCLA). Alana recently gave a great presentation on her research project covering the optical properties of coarse desert dust during the JIFRESSE end of year culmination.

Alana has also participated in the Undergraduate Research Fellow Program, a highly competitive scholarship program that supports undergraduates conducting research in the STEM fields.

 

How did you first get involved in your research project?

My mentor, Dr. Jasper Kok, actually emailed our department, looking for an undergraduate research assistant for his group. I provided my resume and interviewed for the position. After working with Professor Kok and his team for two quarters, I was able to continue my research and collaborate with my group from UCLA along with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory through the summer internship program JIFRESSE.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

Doing research at UCLA has easily been one of my favorite parts of my college experience. UCLA is a research university, so almost every professor is working on an interesting project. In my experience, most professors are eager to teach undergraduates who show initiative. My first research experience was with Dr. Marcelo Chamecki, who provided me with an incredible opportunity to do hands-on research my first year at UCLA. I got involved with his research group simply by going to his office hours and asking questions. After practicing coding and participating in Professor Chamecki’s research, I had skills that helped me achieve my other research goals.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Do it! Take initiative! No one is going to hunt you down and ask you to participate in their research. You need to reach out. It can definitely be daunting to talk to extremely accredited professors about their research and how to get involved, but once you get started, you see that most professors care a lot about teaching undergraduates (and have made it a priority for years). Research allows you to gain skills and apply your knowledge in ways that actually excite you. Doing research is the best way to figure out what you are interested in but also to discover many different areas and fields that you wouldn’t otherwise experience.

What are your future career goals?

Even in my senior year at UCLA, this question still scares me a bit. Add in a global pandemic, and my goals are seeming more and more obscure. Overall, I want to pursue higher education and research. My experiences at UCLA have shown me an appreciation for educating future generations of scientists and also for conducting research. However, as I mentioned, pursuing my goals has often opened doors that I didn’t know even existed such as my summer internship. I am eager to continue my education and see what opportunities I have to benefit my field and create positive changes overall.

Corisa Wong

Corisa is a senior majoring in Environmental Science with a minor in Environmental Engineering. This summer she was selected as one of only six UCLA students to participate in the JIFRESSE program. As part of the program, Corisa is currently working with researchers at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCLA to study carbon stocks in forests throughout North America, using biomass modeling, data fusion, and remote sensing.

Corisa has been a participant in UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Fellows Program and the Sustainable-LA Grand Challenges undergraduate research scholars program.

 

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I became involved in my current research project through the summer internship program at JIFRESSE (Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering) which is a partnership between UCLA and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Through this research I was able to expand my interests and research skills in remote sensing for environmental monitoring.

 

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA has been eye-opening and fulfilling. I first started research through the Sustainable LA Grand Challenges Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (SLA-GC URSP) in Dr. Suzanne Paulson’s atmospheric chemistry lab. I was lucky to have really great mentors in the lab who encouraged and pushed me to grow as a researcher. Also, being involved in research programs such as SLA-GC URSP and URFP, opened up opportunities for me to share and present my research.

 

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Definitely take initiative and talk to professors whose research you find interesting. Once you have found a lab that interests you, demonstrate that you are willing to work hard, since research does take a lot of time and commitment. One great thing about undergrad is that you get the freedom to explore any field that interests you, while also getting to know what is expected of you as a researcher.

 

What are your future career goals?

My future goals are to work in the field of environmental engineering, ecosystem monitoring, and remediation. Broadly, my goal is to gain the interdisciplinary skills and knowledge needed to tackle just some of the many pressing issues facing our world today.

 

Celine Cano-Ruiz

Celine is a senior majoring Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology and currently works with UCLA’s Dr. Lily Wu, whose research focuses on developing gene therapy protocol to treat cancer patients.

Celine was named a co-author on two recently published papers titled “Mouse- and patient-derived CAM xenografts for studying metastatic renal cell carcinoma” and “Comparing Metastatic Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma Model Established in Mouse Kidney and on Chicken Chorioallantoic Membrane.”

As an undergraduate, Celine has been involved in many of the URC’s programs and is currently in the CARE Scholars Program.

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I first got involved in research by participating in UCLA’s Biomedical Sciences Enrichment Program (BISEP) the summer of my freshman year, which I heard about through the PEERS program. It was in this program that I learned basic lab techniques and I realized my passion for research. After the program ended, I began looking for research mentors on my major’s faculty website. From there, I read about their research and I started emailing PI’s whose research pursuits interested me about my interest in participating in their research project. I did a few interviews with PI’s and I got a feel for the environment in the lab and the responsibilities lab’s gave to undergraduate researchers. I was very lucky to find my PI (Dr. Lily Wu) and my graduate student mentor (Moe Ishihara). I have been conducting research in Dr. Wu’s lab for two years now, working on establishing a new animal model – the chicken – in order to study a specific type of kidney cancer.

 

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

It is definitely one of the best experiences I have had at UCLA. It was intimidating at first because I saw so many people doing so many amazing things such as writing full papers and presenting their research and all of that seemed a little out of my reach. And what I most love about my research experience at UCLA is the amount of support that I have received from the URC as well as from my lab and I have just grown tremendously from this experience both as a scientist and as a person. On top of this, I have met so many great people who are now my mentors and friends in the undergraduate research community at UCLA.

 

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

I would say to not get discouraged when first trying to find a lab to get involved in research. It took me two full quarters of writing emails to PI’s about my interest in research that I finally found a lab with a workplace culture that I could see myself thriving in.  Within that time, only a few emailed me back (they are busy people!). You just have to keep trying!

 

What are your future career goals?

Even though I have been involved in research for the majority of my undergraduate career, I have decided to go to medical school after taking a gap year. In medical school, I am still planning on getting involved in research. In the future, I want to be a physician and I think all my years of research have really helped me understand how research informs medical practice.

Lindsey Fontenot

Meet UCLA senior, Lindsey Fontenot, who is majoring in Microbiology,Immunology & Molecular Genetics. Lindsey currently works with Dr. Koon, whose research focuses on digestive diseases.

She was named co-author to three recently published papers titled “Therapeutic Mechanism of Macrophage Inflammatory Protein 1 alpha Neutralizing Antibody (CCL3) in Clostridium difficile Infection in Mice,” “High circulating elafin levels are associated with Crohn’s disease-associated intestinal strictures,” and “Elafin inhibits obesity, hyperglycemia, and liver steatosis in high-fat diet-treated male mice.”

Lindsey was involved in the CARE Fellows Program and is currently a part of our CARE Scholars Program.

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I decided to join a research lab the fall of my sophomore year. So I sent out emails to a number of faculty in departments that interested me. I got a few responses, but I was most interested in my current lab in the Division of Digestive Diseases. It’s an inflammatory bowel disease research center, and I work under my faculty mentor Dr. Michael Koon. I’ve had a few projects since joining the lab, all of which I’ve gotten involved with because I am interested in digestive diseases and clinical/translational research.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences working in my research lab here at UCLA. My mentor has provided me with the guidance necessary to become familiar with a research setting and has also pushed me to be creative with my own ideas. I enjoy learning from some of the brightest in my field at journal club meetings and am constantly inspired to work harder to advance therapeutics for digestive and metabolic diseases.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Find a lab that suits you. It’s important to join a lab and project that you are passionate about because that makes all the difference. When you’re actually excited about what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like you’re doing work. You’ll enjoy going into the lab each week!

What are your future career goals?

I plan to go to graduate school next fall and earn my PhD in biomedical research with something involving translational research. After graduating, I hope to enter industry and eventually lead my own projects and take over my own lab.

Abby R. Thurm

Meet recent UCLA graduate, Abby Thurm, who graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry this Spring 2020. Abby was awarded the Undergraduate Science Journal‘s Best Life Science Research Article for her article titled “Defective-Interfering RNAs as Antiviral Therapy Against Yellow Fever Virus.”

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I was lucky enough to take a very small honors chemistry class in winter of my freshmen year, and approached the professor (my now-PI, Dr. William Gelbart) early in the quarter about potentially joining his lab. He took a chance on me, and neither of us has looked back since – I’ve worked for him for the past four years and been involved in projects ranging from biophysics, to synthetic biology, and now to coronavirus.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA was by far the best part of my undergraduate experience as a whole. Through research, I found my passion, met amazing role models and mentors, and grew so much academically and personally.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Make sure you try to identify mentors who are as invested in your success as you are in their work! Advocate for yourself – ask questions, try to identify what you’re passionate about, and show your mentor that you’re trying to get as much out of your research experience as possible.

What are your future career goals?

I’m starting an M.D./Ph.D. program at Stanford in fall, and from there would love to eventually run a lab and be a PI.

Johnny Diaz

Johnny Diaz is a recent UCLA graduate, majoring in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology with a minor in Biomedical Research.

He currently conducts research in the Andrew Goldstein Lab and studies prostate cancer. You can read his co-authored paper, titled “Expansion of Luminal Progenitor Cells in the Aging Mouse and Human Prostate” published in Cell Reports.

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I got in contact during the summer of transferring to UCLA from East Los Angeles Community College. I reached out to Dr. Goldstein because my goal even before starting at UCLA was to participate in biomedical research since I enjoyed working in a lab during my community college academic career. Because I started looking early and insisted I was able to start working in the lab in Winter 2018.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My first research experience has been amazing! I cannot emphasize how much I have learned and have grown as a young scientist. I am very fortunate to have found amazing mentors, Andrew Goldstein and Preston Crowell. They continuously challenge me and push me to work harder and practice great science.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

My advice is to show up and be ready to work. Hard work is noticed and details matter the most in research. Also, communication is key in any relationship especially in research since you want to have clear goals for yourself and your project.

What are your future career goals?

My goal is to become a professor and teach biology at a community college. I have enjoyed mentoring students and want to continue to do it with underrepresented students in STEM. Also, I want to create or be a part of a research-intensive program for underrepresented minorities to create more opportunities.

 

Carla Pantoja

Carla is a recent UCLA graduate, who majored in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology.

Carla currently works in Dr. Brigitte Gomperts’ lab, which focuses on studying the effects that chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and bone marrow transplants have on our lungs. You can read Carla’s recently co-authored paper, “High-Throughput Drug Screening Identifies a Potent Wnt Inhibitor that Promotes Airway Basal Stem Cell Homeostasis.”

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I got involved with research during the summer of my freshman, where I participated in BISEP. Shortly after BISEP, I joined the Gomperts Lab and began working on a project with my faculty mentor Dr. Cody Aros. Being a part of BISEP helped me become comfortable in a research setting and acquainted with some of the techniques I would use throughout my time in the Gomperts Lab.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I would describe my research experience at UCLA as enriching, fulfilling and above all a joyful time. I loved being surrounding by the brightest minds and learning from them on a daily basis.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

If you’re thinking about getting involved in research, do it! There is no greater joy than translating what you read in a textbook into a real-life experiment. Join a group that conducts research in an area you are interested in, but more importantly find a lab that is conducive to a great learning environment. Surround yourself with people who are eager to train young researchers.

What are your future career goals?

I’m taking two years after graduating to work at the NIH/NHLBI, during which I’ll be applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs.