Kevin Sun

Meet UCLA senior, Kevin Sun, who is double majoring in Human Biology and Society, and Asian Studies. Kevin recently published a paper titled, “A Mouse Model to Investigate the Role of Cancer-associated Fibroblasts in Tumor Growth” in JoVE Journal.

Kevin is a part of Dr. Hilary Coller’s lab in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Development Biology.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

I got to know my research project (and the lab, in general) through the biomedical research minor. Previously I was a volunteer research assistant for a different lab, so I had some research experience. But I wished to have more independence in terms of planning my own experiments and working on them by myself to better prepare myself for graduate school. So I asked the minor’s director, Dr. Ira Clark for advice. He informed me that my PI, Dr. Coller was recruiting undergraduate students back then and briefly introduced the projects to me, which sounded really fascinating. When I met with Dr. Coller, within the short period of time listening to her explaining the projects, I was able to tell that she is really committed to training undergraduate researchers. Her ability of breaking down the scientifically complicated projects and explaining them in a really detailed but understandable way really inspired me. And the active projects at that time fall perfectly on my research interest, which is basic/translational cancer biology. I met with my mentor on the same day and immediately started to work on the day after, which is so far the best decision I have ever made in college. With the help of my PI and postdoc mentors, I spent a quarter or two to learn the skills and complete the training, then started to work on experiments individually or even plan for my own experiments.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

If I would describe my research experience in a couple of words, I would say “rewarding”, “intriguing” and “nerve-wrecking”. My lab works with many clinically relevant projects and many of our studies have clinically applicable significance. Therefore as an aspiring MD/PhD student, seeing any progress in our projects always feels really rewarding and makes me want to go back to lab right away the next day. On the other hand, there are so many unanswered questions in everyday research that constantly intrigue me (which also really stresses the importance of asking questions!). And in terms of nerve-wrecking, doing an important experiment for the very first time by myself always gives me a lot of stress. But again, these experiences are also extremely valuable for my future’s training and being able to do them is a really self-rewarding process itself.

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

I would suggest everyone interested in doing research to read more papers! The ability to read and understand scientific literature is incredibly important, especially if you are planning to go to medical school or graduate school in the future. When you are planning to join a lab, reading some previous papers published by the principal investigator is the best way to catch up with their current research goals and familiarize yourself with potential topics that might come up during the interview with the PI. Reading a lot of papers after joining a lab is just equally as important as before joining a lab. There are numerous techniques that you would not be learning without the protocol papers. And there are also numerous updates in the field everyday that as a scientist you have to keep yourself up with. Therefore, I would suggest other undergraduate peers to learn how to interpret scientific articles and read a lot of them!

What are your future career goals?

Coming into UCLA as a pure pre-med student, my participation in research in the past three years really shifted my goal from just being a physician to a physician-scientist. I find the intersectionality of physician-scientists’ career truly attractive. Therefore in the long term, I see myself going into academic medicine as both a healthcare professional and a basic scientific researcher, likely in areas of cancer biology. And in the short term, I plan to work as a research associate during my gap years and then (hopefully) matriculate into a MD/PhD program.