Ivan Chavez

Meet UCLA senior, Ivan Chavez, who is majoring in Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics. Ivan was recently awarded First Place Undergraduate Poster at the Louis Stokes Midwest Regional Center of Excellence conference. With almost five hundred attendees and 92 poster presentations, Ivan took home first place for his poster titled, ‘Strongyloides Parasitic Nematodes Display Life-stage-specific Responses to Bacteria’. 

Ivan also recently won the Microbiology Oral Presentation Award at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), one of the largest conferences for underrepresented minorities in STEM.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

I was first introduced to research as a career during the summer after my first year. I participated in the Biomedical Sciences Enrichment Program (BISEP) over summer. That experience helped me completely redefine my interests and career goals. I became immensely interested in pursuing research and the program director at the time, Dr. Devin Horton, encouraged me to join a lab. At the end of the summer, the program facilitated interviews with potential PIs looking for students. It was there that I met Dr. Elissa Hallem who fascinated me with her work on understanding the chemosensory behavior of parasitic nematodes. When I expressed my interest in microbial interactions she had the perfect project. A phenomenal graduate student and mentor, Taylor Brown, was working on understanding the interactions between these parasites and bacteria. It was through their mentorship that I have become immersed in this scientific question.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

Transformative. As someone who entered college not understanding what research even was, my experience of being an undergraduate researcher at UCLA has changed the trajectory of my long term goals. I’ve always been interested in posing scientific questions. Being involved in research has cultivated and strengthened those tendencies. It’s also been incredibly supportive. I’ve had so many opportunities because of my research such as attending national conferences and summer programs to present and conduct research, being completely funded for my last two years of college, and receiving intimate professional development. My research experience has been profoundly impactful due to helping me meet amazing people, many of which I’m fortunate enough to call friends and mentors.

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

Ask yourself if you want to create knowledge. Research is a long and rigorous process, but ultimately, you are generating the answers to novel questions. If that is appealing to you, get involved! It’s a process unlike any other that will further shape your resilience and critical reasoning and ultimately help you grow as a person.

What are your future career goals?

I will attend graduate school to obtain a PhD in microbiology. Throughout graduate school, I would like to do science outreach for graduating high school seniors and mentor an undergraduate on my thesis project. Much like people did for me, a serious component of my career will involve motivating the next generation of underrepresented groups to get excited about and into research. After my PhD I hope to continue my research and eventually become a professor at an R1 institution like UCLA. I would like to lead a group of people with diverse perspectives to synthesize new ideas and innovations in the field of microbiology to help repurpose the most abundant organisms on Earth for human benefit.