Dr. Anthony Covarrubias

Meet Dr. Anthony Covarrubias, a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. His mentorship helped Albert Macias, a 4th year UCLA Biochemistry major, secure a CAMP ThermoFisher Award to support their work on immunosenescent NAD metabolism. CAMP is an NSF-LSAMP program at UCLA, aimed at enhancing diversity in STEM at the PhD and Faculty levels. Learn more about CAMP here: UCLA NSF-CAMP.

We had the opportunity to ask Dr. Covarrubias about what it’s like to mentor undergraduate students in the lab:

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

My first experience with undergraduate research was when I was an undergraduate at UCLA myself, many years ago. I worked as a lab technician and was inspired to pursue a Phd in science. At the time, I was taught lab techniques and technical skills, but the details of the scientific goals we were pursuing were not always clear to me. Thus, as a PI I strive to make sure that in addition to technical skills, undergraduate researches also gain a good understanding of the broader mission of the lab and the research project that they are contributing to.

Since joining UCLA as an assistant professor, I have taken on multiple undergraduate students as lab members and mentees.

2. What are your most effective approaches to promote undergraduate research success?

Ensuring the success of the undergraduates’ research is a top priority for me and my lab. Emphasizing mentorship is of utmost importance, particularly when students first join the lab and when they face critical milestones in their undergraduate career. It is through this mentorship that I aim to help students formulate clear goals and then guide them on steps towards reaching those goals. Furthermore, I make sure to include undergraduate students in everything involving the essence of the lab. For example, I expect them to be contributing participants of every lab meeting and journal clubs.

3. What resources at UCLA have been the most beneficial to including undergraduates in your research?

The undergraduate research center at UCLA has numerous resources to assist undergraduates who are pursuing research. Among these are the honors research program and the summer programs. As a relatively young lab, it is particularly helpful when undergraduates are able to secure resources to pursue research in the form of fellowships or grants. There are many options for talented students to pursue if they are dedicated to the search and application process.

4. What should undergraduates consider before they begin their research journey?

Before they begin their research journey, undergraduates should first make sure they have formulated an end goal. That goal could be obtaining a Phd in a particular field, applying to medical school, or having in mind whether they want to pursue a career in academia or in industry. I recognize that the end goal could be a moving target or could change as time goes on. However, I find that it is important for students to have clarity and reasoning behind their desire to initiate a research journey. Doing so helps students focus on seeking the specific type of experience or research that would be most beneficial to reaching that end goal. Beyond this, students should recognize that the research journey can be very rewarding but quite long, and thus they should have the passion and enthusiasm needed to reach the end of the road.

5. How do you support students as they navigate different career trajectories in science?

I primarily support students and help them prepare for a career in science by ensuring that they build a very strong foundation in both research and technical skills. No matter where their career takes them, my goal is to give them the most robust launching pad that I can by challenging them to be their best. With each individual student, I aim to help them achieve their utmost potential in my lab by setting big goals and by encouraging them to overcome any difficult challenges. With this background, I know my students will be prepared for any future career, whether it is in the field of science or in something entirely different.