Jeff Qu

Meet Jeff Qu, a 4th year Biochemistry major and Structural Biology minor. Jeff is currently a member of 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. He was also a part of the 2022-2023 Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP) and 2021-2022 Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP)–both programs that support students conducting a life science, physical science, or engineering research project with a UCLA faculty. We had the opportunity to interview Jeff about his research experience at UCLA.

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

I was curious about the research in biochemistry and how we obtained the understanding of vital life processes in molecular details as I took some classes in chemistry and biology. Then I looked at the URC and departmental website on research opportunities, then I joined the lab by emailing my current PI Dr. Jose Rodriguez. It was in the pandemic, so I picked up a computational project that allowed me to learn coding from the very beginning and understand how to utilize computational tools to probe molecules in silico. After I was on campus, I continued to work on computations as well as getting trained on experimental techniques. Then I begun my independent research project on using machine learning to predict how prone is the proteins to misfold and turned themselves into pathological aggregates known as amyloids.

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

I will say I am really lucky to join the lab with a welcoming atmosphere in undergraduate research as everyone is willing to offer much great advice in research and college life. Not only does my PI encourage me to explore new opportunities and research topics but also my graduate student mentors Samantha Zink and Niko Vlahakis are always there to help me with research training, suggestions for college life, and navigating my career goals. Throughout my experience in the lab, I was exposed to various dimensions of research in structural biology from computational analysis on molecules to experimental structure elucidation, from physics in microscopes to biology in functional assemblies and all of them are conveyed by my awesome mentors who are willing to help me out from the scratch. Other help from the programs at URC is also a key factor to prepare me to become more acquainted with scientific research and all of those people contributed to my meaningful research experience.

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

In my opinion, being active when thinking about research projects as well as communicating with others is really important to become a researcher. I feel like the shift of perspective from a student to a researcher is achieved through actively learning and asking questions to carry out research projects rather than simply conducting experiments. I gained many valuable insights from my peers and mentors when I had some questions about my research or recent publications. Most importantly, I became more excited about research as I gained more understanding about the project so active learning and engaging in conversations really encouraged me to explore more about the field.

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

I presented my work at the West Coast Structural Biology Workshop 2023, and it was a really nice experience. Before the presentation I was putting all my work together to a poster and I learned a lot about how to make the poster more compelling and readable from lab members. And we have to give a flash talk prior to the meeting so formatting all my research highlights to a 2-minute talk was also quite challenging. Anyways it is a really nice experience, my presentation was welcomed by many researchers from other universities, and I discussed and gained a lot of suggestions from other people and their research.

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

We are now currently working on drafting the paper, so it is another experience to put everything together into a story. We also established a website for our tool to the research community and it is pretty fun to build it with my mentor.

6. What are your future career goals?

I am thinking about getting a PhD degree after undergraduate, and I am planning to stick around generally with biophysics and biochemistry. After obtaining my doctoral degree, I plan to continue doing professional research in academia or industry.