Dr. Zhefeng Guo

Meet Dr. Zhefeng Guo, a professor in the Department of Neurology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. During the 2023 UCLA Undergraduate Research Week, Dr. Guo received a Faculty Mentor Award—an award that honors the considerable dedication of UCLA faculty who consistently and enthusiastically serve as effective mentors to undergraduate students involved in research. We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Guo on his experience mentoring undergraduate students in his lab.

1. How would you describe your experiences with undergraduate research at UCLA?

My experiences with undergraduate research have been pleasantly surprising and extremely rewarding. I have to admit that, although initially I underestimated the capabilities of our undergraduate students, I quickly found out that they always exceeded my expectations no matter what kinds of projects I gave them. Many undergraduate students in my lab have been first authors of our peer-reviewed research publications. Our undergraduates have continuously proven that they are among the best at performing scientific research. Many of my students have gone on to pursue their own careers in prestigious M.D., Ph.D., and M.D./Ph.D. programs, and won competitive research awards. It’s extremely rewarding knowing that I have the opportunity to support them at an early stage of their career and see them grow into fully independent researchers.

2. What advice do you have for faculty who are considering mentoring undergraduate researchers in their lab?

When considering being a mentor to undergraduate students I think it is important to give everyone a chance and to have patience with them as everyone has a different reason for getting involved in research.  While some students may simply want to enhance their resume for medical school applications, the majority of them coming into research have a genuine interest in science and are extremely capable. These students can help propel research projects forward on their own if given the chance to grow and shine. It is equally important to determine what degree of mentorship a student needs, depending on their goals and experience, to do the best you can as a mentor.

3. What resources at UCLA do you consider the most beneficial for including undergraduates in research activities?

Most students find my research through the Undergraduate Research Portal where I post research opportunities throughout the year. However, another resource I found to be beneficial is the Biomedical Research Minor program. Dr. Ira Clark, the program Director, has recommended several students from the Minor to my lab. Every one of them has been excellent.

4. What are some important considerations that undergraduates should consider before starting research?

I think the most important factor to consider is to determine your reason for getting involved in research. Research should not be used as a means to an end. Determine whether you are genuinely interested in science and research and what about it you find interesting. If unsure, talk to fellow students who are currently doing research in a lab. Ask them about their experience: if they enjoy doing research and what they like and don’t like about it. After joining a research lab, put in the time and give your 100%. You will find it to be a highly rewarding and engaging experience during your undergraduate career.