Abigail Gutierrez

Say hello to Abigail: a fourth-year Neuroscience major. As a member of the De Biase lab, Abigail studies Microglia: dynamic, macrophage-like cells within the CNS. They remove cellular debris and pathogens from surrounding tissue and exert powerful neuroprotective and/or neurotoxic effects during disease and injury. She also participates in the Louis Stokes California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP),  whose goal is to enhance diversity in STEM fields at the PhD and faculty level by providing financial and professional development support to students from groups underrepresented in these fields. Abigail was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding her research experience:

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

I was first involved in health disparities research my sophomore year. That experience made me realize I love the process of research, however I wanted to do something that enriched my passion and major, Neuroscience. Being placed in the wonderful MD/PHD Richard Morgan MSTP program, led me to be placed in Dr. De Biases lab. This is where I have been researching Microglial-Extracellular matrix interactions related to memory and neuronal function in aged mice!

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

My research experience at UCLA has been extremely enriching and
insightful. Research has definitely shown me the need for scientists, there is a lot more we don’t know in science. Since joining I feel that I have developed strong critical thinking skills and a love for research. There is nothing quite like creating your own ideas and creating a plan on how to evaluate those ideas. Being with a group of like minded people has given me extreme confidence to pursue my goals:)

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

My one piece of advice is to remember your background before you compare yourself to other undergraduates in the lab. Some people might have had lab experience in high school while you may have had none. Just remember you can get on any level with hard work.

4.) What are your future career goals?

My future career goal is to get an MD/PHD in neuroscience!


Keya Jonnalagadda

Meet Keya: a fourth-year Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major. As a Beckman Scholar, Keya will be studying the motility and function of this parasite. She focuses on identifying the interdependencies between proteins within the microtubules of the T. brucei flagellum, as well as characterizing these proteins. Keya hopes to gain a lifelong scientific community through Beckman Scholars to help her build a career in research.


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

I became involved in my current research project by reaching out to a few labs across the MIMG department. I was (and still am!) especially interested in infectious diseases so when I heard back from Dr. Hill’s lab, I felt it was a good fit. I got involved in my project almost immediately because I was super interested in studying parasites and also because I wanted to learn as many techniques as I could right away. It has just evolved into a larger project since then!

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

My research experience at UCLA has been great. I really liked having the opportunity as an MIMG student to take classes where I read about current research and learned about molecular biology techniques before I even started volunteering at a lab. And when I did take the leap and start at the Hill Lab, everyone there was accepting and supportive about my career goals in research. I feel that I wouldn’t be where I am today in research without the help of the people I do research with here every day.

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

My advice to students trying to get involved is to just send an email or stay behind after class and talk to your professor about any kind of question or idea you have. Don’t hesitate! The only criteria to get involved with research is to be interested, and as long as you express interest, you will find your place at a great lab.

4. What are your future career goals?

I’m applying to PhD programs this fall in Infectious Diseases and Immunology or Microbiology in the hopes of one day being a research scientist developing real solutions to real global health issues.

Frankie Villalobos

Meet UCLA senior, Frankie Villalobos, who is majoring in Physiological Sciences with a minor in Chican@ & Central American Studies. In addition to participating in the URC-Sciences Summer Program performing research with UCLA faculty, their first paper was published Fall 2021 in MPDI titled “Mitochondrial Heterogeneity in Metabolic Diseases” that discusses how mitochondrial heterogeneity is both beneficial and detrimental to the cellular system.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

I first got involved in my research project and my lab through my LS23L TA. He helped me get in touch with a graduate student in the Shirihai lab. Since then, I have had the best, and most privileged, experiences and have been able to join on multiple research projects.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

Getting into research at UCLA is one of the more challenging things you can do. Especially if you are looking into either funded research or popular topics like cancer biology. However, there are plenty of resources that will help you get to your goal. As I previously mentioned, my LS 23L TA helped me get into research. Although the TAs are a wonderful way to get into research, there are plenty of other way into getting research. You just need to find out your best path into getting it.


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

Just do it! You won’t know if it’s the right environment for you unless you try it out. Other things to consider are the work environment and your research topic. Also, remember to have fun!


What are your future career goals?

Currently, I’m not sure what my career goal is. I do know that I will be applying to grad school and, hopefully, getting my PhD in Physiology.

Arjun Verma

Meet UCLA Senior, Arjun Verma, who is majoring in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology with a minor in Bioinformatics. As a member of the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, he submitted work and presented at the Western Thoracic Surgical Association and was one of 19 podium presentations at a conference that typically only accepts residents and attending physicians for presentation.

Arjun was published as a first author in the article “Incidence and Outcomes of Laryngeal Complications Following Adult Cardiac Surgery: A National Analysisthat discuss the increased morbidity of Laryngeal complications which call for further development of active screening protocols in order to increase early detection. In addition, Arjun recently co-authored a publication in JAMA Cardiology called “Center-Level Variation in Transplant Rates Following the Heart Allocation Policy Change“.


How did you first get involved in your research project? 

During junior year of high school, an eye opening research experience at the University of Massachusetts Amherst solidified my passion for biomedical research. After searching for research opportunities online, I found the CORE Lab’s website and saw a plethora of clinical outcomes research projects. I knew that clinical outcomes research was the perfect opportunity for me to apply my machine learning knowledge to clinical problems. Thus, when I committed to UCLA, I immediately emailed Dr. Benharash and joined the lab in my first quarter on campus.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA has been extremely rewarding. When I joined Dr. Benharash’s CORE Lab, I was immediately greeted with a warm, collaborative lab environment. Members in the lab, including surgical residents, medical students and other undergraduates, were excited to have me contribute to their projects and develop my research skills. My research typically involves applying data science and machine learning techniques to large datasets of surgical patients in order to identify clinical and hospital factors that contribute to postoperative complications and prolonged length of stay. One of my most impactful projects has been to develop machine learning models to predict length of stay after cardiac operations. These tools will be implemented in the UCLA electronic medical record systems and will help inform patient scheduling strategies. Ultimately, this project allows hospital administrators and surgeons to reduce waiting list times. Through my experiences in the CORE Lab, I further developed my programming skills, learned several machine learning techniques and how to write professional, scientific manuscripts that are suitable for publication in peer reviewed journals.


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

I think that there are two important things that make a good research experience: an amazing mentor and a true passion for the research topic. I would recommend taking time to find a research project and mentor that will provide you with opportunities that will be both personally and professionally fruitful. In addition, I would encourage people to reach out to labs with the intent of diving deeply into the subject material.


What are your future career goals?

After graduation, I plan to attend medical school and pursue a career as a physician scientist. I hope that my future research projects will also involve developing additional machine learning models to predict clinical outcomes following surgery.

Tianqing Li

Meet recent UCLA graduate, Tianqing Li, who majored in Bioengineering and Applied Mathematics. Tianqing was recently published as first author for her undergraduate research. “A Multi-Pronged Evaluation For Image Normalization Techniques” is published in IEEE Explore. She also presented her work at the 2021 IEEE 18th International Symposium.

As an undergraduate, Tianqing was a part of Dr. William Hsu’s lab in the Department of Radiological Sciences. Tianqing is now a PhD student at Duke Biomedical Engineering.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I emailed several different research labs to look for remote research opportunities. Prof. William Hsu was very kind to schedule a meeting with me regarding my previous research experiences and current interests. Later I was introduced to one of his PhD students, Leihao, and started to help with an ongoing project related to lung CT image processing.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

It has been a very fruitful experience for me, in terms of both crucial research expertises and future career development. It was the first time that I had the chance to start a new research project from scratch, actively get involved in lab activities, and eventually draft and publish an academic paper. It was also during this process that I confirmed my interest in continuing with more advanced research and decided to apply to graduate schools.


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

My major advice is to not get immediately discouraged by the frustration that almost everyone will encounter when they try to enter a new lab/get into some new area. For me, reading more about the current state of the art in the field, and certainly looking for advice and help from other people in the lab have been very helpful.


What are your future career goals?

Given the fact that I am still in the very early phase of my graduate study, it is uncertain for me to decide which direction I would like to pursue, in particular, academia versus industry. But I am certain that I enjoy research-based work and am open to different types of opportunities.


What will you be studying as a PhD student at Duke University?
I am currently a first-year PhD student advised by Professor Timothy Dunn at Duke Biomedical Engineering. Our lab works on developing ML/AL-empowered robust 3D behavioral tracking systems for lab animals – tools for high-resolution movement quantification and better understanding of the nervous system.



Sophia Winter

Meet UCLA senior, Sophia Winter, who is majoring in Environmental Science with Atmospheric Sciences minor. This summer, Sophia was awarded the 2021 JSIP Best Presentation Award for her research presentation as part of the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering (JIFRESSE) program.

The JIFRESSE program is a highly selective program where undergraduates work on a project as part of a collaboration between UCLA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that focuses on monitoring global warming and climate change in California.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

I heard of the JIFRESSE program through an undergraduate mentorship hosted by Chi Epsilon Pi (XEP), a national meteorological honors society at UCLA. XEP has historically been for graduate students in the Atmospheric Science Department, but recently organized an undergraduate chapter for students affiliated with the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (AOS) Department. I minor in AOS, so I was able to join a mentorship group led by a graduate student. We meet about once a quarter to talk about our goals and future plans. JIFRESSE was one of the programs my mentor recommended.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I have had a really diverse research experience. In the Fall of my sophomore year, I was part of the Sustainability Action Research (SAR) program offered through the Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES). My team gathered information about undergraduate research opportunities and accessibility in the realm of sustainability. We compiled a report with design recommendations for a website to host all past, present, and future sustainability-related research projects by students. Last year, I was a research assistant for a graduate student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. Using data obtained through DNA metabarcoding, I studied how hummingbird diets change based on sex, age, and across altitudinal and rural/urban gradients. JIFRESSE was the first research experience in line with my future career goals because I want to pursue a research position in the earth sciences. I mapped and analyzed landslide movement along California’s Big Sur coastline. I learned so much about remote sensing and got to practice my coding and oral presentation skills.


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

I recommend not being too selective about the topic of a research opportunity. I have done different types of projects in varying fields and have learned valuable skills from each experience. Also, I know reaching out can be intimidating, especially at a school with such high achieving and intelligent students and faculty, but keep in mind that everyone has been where you are. Everyone had to start somewhere, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there just because you might not have research experience yet. UCLA is a research institution that has many faculty members who value and have a need for help from undergraduates.


What are your future career goals?

This past year made me realize how much I like the freedom of remote work. I would also love to do field research but want a position that is primarily remote so I can have the flexibility to travel. After college, I plan to work for a couple of years to clarify my area of focus for graduate school. Ideally I want to work for a government agency like NASA or NOAA and do remote sensing work in glaciology. Any research-focused career in earth science that helps the environment in some way will be engaging and fulfilling.

Swetha Sankar

Meet UCLA senior, Swetha Sankar, who is majoring in Astrophysics. Swetha was recently published as first author for her paper, “V488 Per revisited: no strong mid-infrared emission features and no evidence for stellar/sub-stellar companions” in The Astrophysical Journal. This past summer, Swetha was also selected to participate in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program with the National Radio Astronomy Observator and presented her research at the Summer Student Symposium.

Swetha is currently a part of Dr. Ben Zuckerman’s laboratory in the UCLA Department of Physics & Astronomy.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

During the Fall semester of my Sophomore year, I was interested in pursuing research and gaining hands-on experience in my field of study. In particular, my interest in a few of Dr. Ben Zuckerman and Beth Klein’s papers on white dwarf atmospheres and their significance in defining extrasolar planet properties led me to reach out to them. After a meeting in which we discussed my current research interests, I was given the opportunity to work with Dr. Carl Melis at UC San Diego on an unusually dusty stellar system.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

This opportunity has definitely provided an invaluable experience for me as I have gained many technical skills and improved my public speaking. Additionally, it has also provided me with a community of people who have helped me grow as a person and an undergraduate student researcher under their mentorship.

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

Do not be afraid or intimidated of reaching out and expressing your interest in a topic of study! If you are unsure where your interests lie, I would advise attending talks hosted by the department. Faculty on campus are more than willing to mentor you, help you grow as a researcher, and teach you the necessary skills needed to succeed.


What are your future career goals?

Currently, I am conducting research on low mass dwarf galaxy evolution and aim to apply to graduate school for higher studies in observational astrophysics with an interest in black holes and their influence on galactic evolution.

Megan Williams

Meet recent UCLA graduate, Megan Williams, who majored in Mechanical Engineering. Megan recently published a paper based on her undergraduate research conducted in Dr. Laurent Pilon’s lab in the UCLA Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. “Effect of dew and rain on photovoltaic solar cell performances” is published in Solar Energy Materials & Solar Cells.

Post graduation, Megan has started working at Abbott as a systems engineer in the Cardiac Rhythm Management division. Her R&D work focuses on implantable medical devices that monitor and manage irregular heart rhythms in patients.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

At the beginning of my third year at UCLA I wanted to get involved in a research lab, so I looked into different labs within the Mechanical Engineering department and was interested in the ongoing projects in Prof. Laurent Pilon’s lab. Thus, I reached out to Prof. Pilon and we scheduled a meeting with me to discuss my interests further. I expressed that I was especially interested in performing experimental research, so he partnered me with one of his PhD students, Eylul Simsek, and I began helping with their droplet studies.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I enjoyed my research experience at UCLA. Through my time in Prof. Pilon’s lab, I was able to gain hands-on engineering and research experience outside of the classroom, which strengthened my overall technical skills as an engineer. In addition, I met a lot of people through my work in the lab and gained mentorship from Prof. Pilon and Eylul.


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

My biggest piece of advice is to look into different labs on campus and reach out to any professors or graduate students you’re interested in working with! A lot of people are looking for extra help in their labs, so don’t feel afraid to put yourself out there and reach out.


What are your future career goals?

Currently, I’m working at Abbott as a systems engineer in their Cardiac Rhythm Management division. So far, I’m loving my new job and I’m very interested in the innovation currently taking place in the medical technologies field, so my future career goals involve continued R&D work on medical devices.

Indya Weathers

Meet Indya Weathers, a UCLA graduate who majored in Biochemistry. Indya was recently published as first author for her undergraduate research conducted in Dr. Guillaume Chanfreau’s lab in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. “Protocol for High-Resolution Mapping of Splicing Products and Isoforms by RT-PCR Using Fluorescently Labeled Primers” is published in STAR Protocols. 

Indya is now a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at the University of Chicago.

During her undergraduate years, Indya was a part of our CARE Fellows/IMSD program.


How did you first get involved in your research at UCLA?

During my transition from community college to UCLA, I applied to the Minority Science Bridges to the Baccalaureate program at the University of California, Irvine. I worked with the faculty. postdocs, and graduate students to learn how to conduct a research project and perform lab experiments. I was invited to present this research at the ABRCMS 2017 National Undergraduate Research Conference where I met scientists and other students interested in biomedical science. My desire for scientific research grew and I decided to join a lab once I transferred to UCLA. During my first year, I applied for and was accepted into the IMSD program funded by the NIH to conduct my own independent project in the lab of Dr. Guillaume Chanfreau. Through the support of my graduate student mentor, Charles Wang, the mentorship of my PI, and the resources provided to me by Dr. Tama Hasson through the IMSD program, I was able to present my work at various research conferences and gain experiences that prepared me for success in my future research career.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA was incredible due to the constant support of the URC Sciences department, the resources provided by the IMSD program, and the mentorship of my PI Dr.Guillaume Chanfreau. I was able to work with mentors and successful underrepresented STEM professionals to gain skills in research, presentations, and leadership which helped me prepare for graduate school as well as my future in research as an underrepresented female in science. I was able to present my research at UCLA Undergraduate Research Symposiums to incoming freshmen in programs for underrepresented students in order to inform and inspire them to pursue research in their careers. I was also able to present at the ABRCMS National Undergraduate Research Conference three years in a row on my projects that I was researching. From this work, I was able to publish my first author research paper which was my biggest accomplishment as an undergraduate because it recognized my hard work and potential to become a successful professional in the field. Overall, research at UCLA was one of the most exciting times in my life and set up a foundation for me to excel in my future career.


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

There is no such thing as too early or too late to get involved in research at UCLA. The URC Sciences department provides so many resources available that will guide and support you to find the right faculty and students to mentor you. No matter how much prior experience you have had in research, the professors and students will help you learn the concepts that they are studying, many lab techniques, and the skills necessary to become a successful future scientist.


What are your future career goals?

I am interested in many potential careers including academia, industry, and other alternative careers in science. In my future career, I want to provide mentorship to underrepresented groups and provide new ways of increasing diversity and inclusion. Not only do I want to become a leader in the field of research, but also an inspiration, resource, and opportunity for people interested in research to have increased accessibility.


What are you doing post-graduation from UCLA?

Currently, I am a rising 2nd year PhD student in the department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at the University of Chicago. I will soon begin my thesis work studying 3-dimensional protein structures, their dynamics, and their functions. I plan to become a leader among my peers in providing broader access to research resources to underrepresented groups in science. I am excited to contribute to broadening the field of knowledge in the biological sciences and make it available and accessible to a diverse group of students.

Amanda Hagen

Meet recent UCLA graduate, Amanda Hagen who majored in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. This past Spring, Amanda was awarded the Undergraduate Science Journal’s Best Review Article for, “Modeling Germ Cell Development to Advance In Vitro Gametogenesis.”

As an undergraduate Amanda was a part of Dr. Amander Clark’s lab in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology.


How did you first get involved in your research?

I first got involved in research at UCLA through the club Environmental Student Network. I was recommended to join the LA Mammals research group my freshman year at UCLA and spent around a year working on a project studying transmission of the bacteria Leptospira among mammals. After switching my major to Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, I decided to pursue different research opportunities. I discovered my love for molecular biology research after working as a summer research associate at UCSB in the Clegg Lab studying macular degeneration using stem cells. The following year at UCLA I joined the Clark Lab where I have spent the past two years using stem cells to study germline development.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA, particularly my time in the Clark lab, has been the most beneficial learning experience in terms of career preparation and growth as a scientist in all my time at UCLA. I had amazing mentors that taught me everything from molecular biology laboratory techniques to scientific presentation skills. Although, above all I found life-long friendship in the fellow scientists working in the lab.

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

My biggest piece of advice for other students wanting to get involved in research at UCLA would be to join the Biomedical Research minor. This program offers many classes that prepare students for research and most importantly help students get into a lab of their choice!

What are your career goals and/or your plans post-graduation?

After graduation, I am moving to Boston to work in the Biotechnology field. I will be joining the company GC Therapeutics as a research associate and will be researching stem cell therapies. My long-term careers goals are to study molecular biology and bioinformatics in graduate school after working for a few years.