Jennifer Gonzalez

Meet Jennifer Gonzalez; a 3rd year majoring in Neuroscience. It would be an understatement to say that Jennifer keeps herself busy while taking classes at UCLA. She was previously a member of the 2-year PEERS program offered by the URC-Sciences. During the summer, she also participated in the CARE SEM Summer Program, a 10-week opportunity for UCLA undergraduates to undertake research with a UCLA faculty and receive professional development through workshops and seminars, and the Richard Morgan Undergraduate Fellowship Program. Now as an upperclassmen, she is an active member of the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC)U*STAR Program and the Louis Stokes California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP). CAMP is an NSF-funded program shared across nine UC campuses whose goal is to enhance diversity in the STEM fields at the PhD and faculty level by providing financial and professional development support to students from groups underrepresented in these fields. Jennifer was kind enough to answer a few questions about her research experience and offer a few tips for those interested in beginning their research journey:

1. How did you first get involved in your research project?
I joined the Dong Lab as a rising senior in high school through USCs STAR Program. This process involved reaching out to different PIs, expressing my interest in volunteering at their lab, and interviewing with a series of lab members. I later trained as a histology assistant in the wet lab and met wonderful individuals, including the PI, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and lab technicians. My experience learning about the Mouse Cortico-Basal Ganglia-Thalamic Network project, which involved tracing inputs from the striatum into different parts of the basal ganglia, helped consolidate my interest in neuroscience. This inspired me to further immerse myself in research on neuroanatomy. I continued my research in the Dong Lab by contributing to the creation of a mouse spinal cord atlas that can be applied to understand spinal cord injuries.

2. How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?
Overall, my research experience at UCLA has been extremely enjoyable and enriching. My involvement in PEERS throughout my freshman and sophomore years increased my exposure to different summer programs offered on campus. Hoping to continue my research project in the Dong Lab over the summer, I participated in the CARE SEM Summer Program. This program allowed me to dedicate a substantial amount of time to my project and learn new techniques in the lab. I also gained valuable perspectives from current graduate students and med school students. Additionally, I learned about the physician-scientist track through this program, which inspired me to apply to the Richard Morgan Undergraduate Fellowship (RMUF). Over the course of RMUF, I learned more about the MD/PhD pathway and attended a series of networking socials with current students. This experience helped me learn more about where
medicine and research intersect. I continued my involvement in research through MARC and the Louis Stokes California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) program, which have provided an abundance of resources that have collectively allowed me to develop my research skills, learn about scientific writing, and present at different research conferences.

3. What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?
One piece of advice I would give other students thinking about becoming involved in research is to attend as many seminars and research talks as possible to learn more about on-going research at UCLA. Attending seminars and research talks can help you learn about different research techniques, projects, and labs on campus. This can also help narrow down your interests and labs that you would like to learn more about. Overall, this is a great way to network and meet new people in the research community.

4. Have you attended a conference before? If so, can you describe your experience on preparation, presenting, etc.?
Through the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) U*STAR Program, I had the opportunity of attending the 2022 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS). This was the first research conference I attended. I presented my progress on the “High-Resolution Mapping of Motor Neuron Groups in the Mouse Spinal Cord” project, which involves the creation of a continuous atlas of the mouse spinal cord. To prepare for my presentation, I created different versions of my poster and received constructive criticism to help produce an organized and concise presentation. This experience was extremely rewarding, because I learned about the different components of a poster and how to develop concise figures. Additionally, my experience at ABRCMS was extremely valuable as I met individuals from different backgrounds, learned about programs offered at various campuses, and attended research talks.

5. What are your future career goals?
After completing my undergraduate career, I plan to pursue an MD/PhD degree in neuroscience and conduct research related to epilepsy.