Jordi Martinez

Meet Jordi Martinez, a 4th year neuroscience major. Jordi is a part of the Louis Stokes California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) program, an NSF-funded program whose goal is to enhance diversity in the STEM fields by supporting students from historically underrepresented groups. Jordi is also part of the UCLA neuroscience department Scheibel Scholars program for the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year. We had the opportunity to learn more about Jordi’s research experience at UCLA:

1. How did you first get involved in your research project?

I joined my lab in fall of 2022 by applying to a position posted on the UCLA Undergraduate Research Portal. At UCLA finding any research position is tough since labs spot fill up almost immediately. Throughout the summer between my second and third year, I was cold emailing several professors whose labs I had been interested but had no luck finding any openings. When I heard about the research portal, I realized it was a super convenient way for me to find available research positions. I filtered by neuroscience and psychology labs and found a position in the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Laboratory located in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience. I wrote a cover letter, sent in my resume, and was later called in for an interview. To this day I am working in the same lab on a diffusion MRI project investigating the structural connectivity of a child born with callosal agenesis. I am preparing to submit a first author paper for review by the end of 2023.

2. How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I would describe my research at UCLA as demanding but very rewarding. My lab trusts me to handle my project on my own schedule, allowing me to come into the lab as I please and even work remotely. This gives me greater independence when it comes to how I plan my research around other responsibilities like class and clubs but also requires me to be self-sufficient. For example, I have learned to constantly read the background literature in my field to understand the greater context of my research. I try to read at least 1 paper every time I come into the lab so I can gather ideas and plan what to investigate next. I am also incredibly lucky to have two great mentors in my lab: Dr. Lucina Uddin and Dr. Jason Nomi. They guide all the undergraduates in the lab not just with their projects but also with larger career planning in the sciences. Good mentorship continues to be imperative for my success in research here at UCLA.

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

For students wanting to get involved at research here at UCLA, my biggest piece of advice is don’t wait! It is never too early to start research even as a first-year student. One regret I have was waiting till the end of my second year to apply to labs. As I mentioned before, it is not easy to find open positions and you will most likely get turned down a lot. However, that’s completely normal and is by no means a reflection of your ability to do research here at UCLA. This advice goes for any research program or scholarship as well. Even if you think your chances are minute, apply, apply, apply!

4. Have you attended a conference before? If so, can you describe your experience on preparation, presenting, etc.?

In spring of 2023 I presented my research at the Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference and the Semel Undergraduate Research Conference. It was my first time creating a poster presentation of my research, so I was nervous but excited to show what I had done.  Creating the poster and preparing the oral presentation taught me how to succinctly explain my research to a non-expert audience which is an essential skill for any researcher. I learned how to prepare the classic 3-minute elevator pitch that highlights the important aspects of my work while keeping the audience engaged. I am currently preparing for another presentation about my research as part of the Louis Stokes California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) program.

5. What are your future career goals?

After graduation, I plan to take a gap year to continue research through either a post-baccalaureate program or research assistant position. During this year I will also prepare my application to apply to a combined MD/PhD program for neuroscience. I hope to one day run my own clinical lab investigating neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Hanna Hoang

Meet Hanna Hoang, a 4th year undergraduate at UCLA majoring in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics. Hanna is currently a part of the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP), a scholarship program that supports students conducting a research project with a UCLA faculty member. Her work was published earlier this year in Neuro-Oncology, the official journal of the Society for Neuro-Oncology. We had the chance to interview Hanna about her research experience at UCLA:

1. How did you first get involved in your research project?

My first year at UCLA was online, but I still wanted to get involved in research. I found out about CURE, or Collaboration in Undergraduate Research Enrichment early on in my freshman year. It’s a club that gives students looking to get into research at UCLA mentorship resources and workshops on how to get their foot in the door with research. So, whilst taking remote classes, I was able to write cold emails to several different labs that I was really interested in. I was super lucky to get placed in the lab that I’m currently in: the Vlashi Lab. I always knew I wanted to explore the field of cancer research, and I am nothing but grateful to be a part of this lab, where I get to do exactly that! Coming into the lab as a sophomore, I was completely new to research. But, under the guidance of my PI and mentors in the lab, I saw myself growing as a researcher, improving not only my technical skills, but also my critical thinking.

2. How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I would say that my time in conducting research at UCLA has been a rich, and truly immersive experience, one that truly allowed me to experience what the world of research was like. It was truly invaluable to be able to talk to so many people and glean as much knowledge as I could from them. I loved hearing about the diversity of motivations that people had for pursuing careers in science, which in turn made me even more excited to pursue a career in this field as well! Being a research-heavy university, I truly feel that UCLA provides so many opportunities for students to get involved in research, whether its through free informational workshops, or scholarship programs.

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

I would say that it’s very easy—and normal—to feel overwhelmed by the myriad of laboratories and distinguished professors engaging in such fascinating and important research, especially when you are an undergraduate looking to get involved. But my number one piece of advice is to remember that you don’t have to know everything. No one expects you to know how to culture cells or perform a Western blot perfectly on your first try. And when you’re applying to labs, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t have much (or any) research experience at all. Most labs want to see your willingness to learn and grow. As long as you have that, the rest will follow!

4. Have you had your work published? Can you talk about what that process was like?

My work recently was published in Neuro-Oncology as part of the publication “M2 isoform of pyruvate kinase rewires glucose metabolism during radiation therapy to promote an antioxidant response and glioblastoma radioresistance.” It was a long, but immensely rewarding, experience, especially for the senior members of my lab. On my end, it required repeating experiments many times to ensure our results were consistent and publishable. After the paper was submitted, we all felt a wave a relief. However, waiting to hear back from the journal was the most nerve-wracking part. When we finally got the news that our publication was accepted, it was such exciting, yet relieving, news! One of my favorite moments was when our lab celebrated with a potluck in the Botanical Gardens afterwards.

5. What are your future career goals?

It took me a while to solidify my career path, but I ultimately plan to pursue a PhD after graduating. The precise subject I plan to study is still undecided, but it will definitely have to do with translational research involving potential therapeutic applications for diseases such as cancer.