Austin Aguirre

Meet Austin Aguirre, a 4th year Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetic major and English minor. Austin 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. He was also a part of the Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences (PEERS)– the program is committed to supporting academic excellence and professional development for students dedicated to careers in the life or physical sciences or mathematics. Austin’s current research revolves around urban ecology and the evolution of dark-eyed juncos through the investigation of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Through the comparison of gut diversity and antibiotic resistance among rural and urban populations, the research explores how these juncos are affected by living in human-populated areas.

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

I joined the Yeh lab during the winter quarter of my sophomore year. By that time, I had completed LS7A and LS7B, and was deeply fascinated by the various concepts in microbiology and ecology. As I started cold-emailing PIs, I knew I wanted to engage in research that bridged these two disciplines, and my current lab proved to be an ideal match. Our lab is dedicated to studying the urban ecology and evolution of birds, specifically dark-eyed juncos, and investigating antibiotic resistance in bacteria as well. I am currently involved in a project that aims to characterize the gut microbiota of juncos. The goal is to assess and compare the gut diversity and antibiotic resistance among rural and urban populations, exploring how these juncos are affected by living in human-populated areas.

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

My research experience at UCLA has been both rewarding and fulfilling. I feel extremely fortunate to have joined a supportive lab community, with mentors who have supported my future research endeavors. A special shoutout to my graduate student mentor, Wilmer, for helping me hone my scientific skills. The sense of community among UCLA researchers has been a highlight, and I’ve enjoyed discussions with various professors, teaching assistants, and fellow students about their research outside of class. I am also grateful to have found additional community and support through the NIH MARC program here at UCLA. Being a MARC scholar has significantly enhanced my research experience, providing profound opportunities, including assistance in attending research conferences and securing summer research positions.

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

It might feel intimidating to join a lab, but at UCLA, there’s an immense number of resources and opportunities to help you get started. It’s crucial to actively seek them out. Being part of PEERS in my early college years was a big help for me. For a leg up, I’d suggest subscribing to the URC-Sciences newsletter to find new opportunities! Networking and staying curious are your best tools for finding your place in research.

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

I’ve presented my research three times at research conferences thanks to my participation in MARC. I’ve attended ABRCMS twice in addition to the Leadership Alliance’s National Symposium as a summer research intern at the University of Pennsylvania. Attending conferences can initially feel intimidating, but from my experience, it’s really a time to celebrate the progress you’ve made in research and have fun. In preparing conference presentations, I’ve found that a strong background is key. Make sure to clearly explain the background so that as

you present your results, you can keep linking them back to this context. This helps to ensure that your audience can easily follow and comprehend your research narrative.

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

I have not had my work published yet, but I’m currently writing a manuscript for my project.

6. What are your future career goals?

My goal is to earn a PhD in microbiology, and I aspire to become a principal investigator in infectious diseases research. I am particularly interested in HIV research, a field I delved into this past summer at the University of Pennsylvania. I plan to apply to PhD programs soon. Meanwhile, I am thankful for the opportunity to extend my research journey post-college as a PREP Scholar at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, within their Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.