Alex Wu

Meet Alex Wu, a 4th year Design | Media Arts and Neuroscience double major. Alex is currently involved in the Integrated and Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Program (i2URP), a two-year academic development program that prepares juniors and seniors for graduate studies and careers in biomedical research by improving their comprehension of scientific literature and sharpening their presentation skills. During the 2023 summer, he was a part of the Amgen Scholars Program, a national program for students committed to pursuing a career in biomedical research. He is also a 2023-2024 UCLA Neuroscience Scheibel Scholar. We were able to ask Alex about his research experience at UCLA:

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

Coming into UCLA I had an idea of what I hoped to research—I liked neuroscience and was interested in understanding how our brain and behavior worked. I also knew that I wanted to approach such questions from computationally. I cold emailed a list of computational neuroscience labs and am grateful that Dr. Masmanidis and his lab was willing to take on and mentor me as an undergraduate. Getting to the project I am working on now was a lot of learning on the job. I learned bits and pieces of immunohistochemical imaging, mice handling, and experimental design from what the graduate students and post-docs needed help with on their projects. All of that prepared me for the Parkinson’s Disease mice gait model project that I am researching now.

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

My research experience as a part of the Masmanidis Lab has been one of my most meaningful experiences at UCLA because of how it combines all of my neuroscience knowledge and skills together. There has been a lot of patience involved when experiments need to be revised or inconclusive results appear. But when all of my procedures start to come together and I start to see trends in my data, it makes the incremental nature of being in a lab worth it. I am also grateful for the research community I have met at UCLA; being a part of the i2URP program, the Amgen Scholars program, and the neuroscience community at UCLA is something I will treasure even after graduation.

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

Research is an unpredictable and patient process. I would try to learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that nothing about being at the forefront of science is set in stone. Even with the most comprehensive literature search or up-to-date data, it is not easy to predict if an experiment will turn out the way you imagined or if an opportunity will go your way. However, that is okay and everyone feels that way! Being willing to take a leap of faith to find a mentor or pursue a lead even if you aren’t fully confident you are ready can be chances to learn about the process and yourself. Trust that you are making the most informed decision you can and that things will slowly sort themselves out.

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

I have helped with the publications of some of the graduate students and post-docs in the lab, including a paper that is currently in pre-print. It was interesting to see how our work is far from over even after finishing our first experiments. Rather, following a submission, it is an ongoing process of revisions and troubleshooting based on the feedback we get.

5. What are your future career goals?

Following graduation I intend to work in clinical research, whether at UCLA or elsewhere, while applying to MD/PhD programs. As a career I hope to work with applications of neurotechnologies for clinical situations, particularly in regards to neurodegenerative disorders, as a physician scientist.