Emil Dominguez

Meet Emil Dominguez, a 3rd year biochemistry major with a minor in biomedical research. He is currently involved in the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, a two-year, NIH-funded, undergraduate honors program that seeks to increase the number of biomedical scientists from diverse backgrounds that significantly impact health-related research. Emil was also a winner of the Best Poster award at the 2023 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) and a recipient of the 2023-2024 UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Student Leadership Award. We had the opportunity to interview Emil about his research experience at UCLA:

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

My research journey took an unconventional route, beginning in community college before being accepted to UCLA. While in community college, I was fortunate to be accepted into the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program Richard Morgan Undergraduate Fellowship, a life-changing experience. That summer, I joined Dr. Keriann M. Backus’s laboratory, where I gained a foundation in chemical biology. It was exciting to synthesize a small molecule and test its biological properties in cells. When I transferred to UCLA later that fall, I was thrilled to be invited to pursue additional projects in the Backus laboratory. I’ve been deeply involved in research ever since.

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

My research experience at UCLA has been incredibly enriching. Each week, I look forward to the chemistry and biochemistry department seminars. From organic and inorganic chemistry to biochemistry and chemical biology, I’ve been exposed to so many diverse research fields and had the opportunity to expand my scientific knowledge. Hearing from Nobel laureates and the world’s leading researchers at events like the Sigman Symposium and Glenn T. Seaborg Symposium has been inspiring. I feel so lucky to be a part of this amazing research community with incredible mentors like Dr. Backus, Dr. Carlos Portera-Cailliau, and Dr. Tama Hasson, to name a few.

Also, thanks to Dr. Gina Poe, Dr. Megan McEvoy, and Larone Ellison, I’ve had the opportunity to expand my horizons in the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. Their guidance and support have allowed me to undertake independent and sustained research experiences at UCLA and abroad. Through MARC’s support, I participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Internship at the University of Pennsylvania and, more recently, the Vanderbilt Undergraduate MSTP fellowship, which I will attend in the summer of 2024.

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

My biggest tip is to start as early as possible, especially if you’re a transfer. Don’t be discouraged by how challenging it might be to understand complex concepts during lab meetings. Research is a constant learning journey; with each lab meeting, your understanding will deepen. Gradually, complex topics will become clearer, and you’ll start coming up with your own ideas and contributions.

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

I recently attended the 2023 ABRCMS conference, where I presented research I conducted in Dr. Dirk Trauner’s laboratory through the Summer Undergraduate Internship Program at the University of Pennsylvania. I worked to develop a photoswitchable version of cholesterol in the hopes that its incorporation into a phospholipid membrane, such as in a liposome, would afford us optical control over its permeability and, thus, the delivery of its contents. Much of my preparation began as soon as I landed in Philadelphia. I was given my own lab space and worked to set it up from scratch, including assembling a schlenk line used for air-free chemistry and preparing personal stock solutions and supplies. I happily worked late into the night and sometimes into the early morning hours and was completely immersed in my project. At the end of my summer, I gave a detailed PowerPoint research update during the weekly Trauner group meeting. Fielding questions and getting feedback and ideas for future experiments from labmates and Dirk was great preparation for presenting at ABRCMS.

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

I contributed to a project currently under review at Nature Chemical Biology, which has been deposited into the bioRxiv.

The publication process has helped me develop a big-picture understanding of our research project. I learned how to craft a narrative around our findings, proposing experiments that contribute to a cohesive story. It also forced me to think critically about project design and how to select and propose impactful experiments.

6. What are your future career goals?

I am driven to become a physician-scientist and address biomedical research questions impacting communities of color. My ultimate goal is to lead research as a principal investigator, where I can leverage my scientific expertise and clinical experience to find solutions that directly address these disparities.