OUR Student Ambassadors
OUR Student Ambassadors
The OUR Student Ambassadors are a group of undergraduate researchers at UNC who work with the Office for Undergraduate Research to promote a culture of research on this campus. They’re also here to help you! Feel free to contact the OUR Student Ambassadors at the email addresses listed below.
Name: Colleen Bereda
Minor: Neuroscience, Chemistry
How/Why Research? I found my passion in research after completing a semester-long research project in high school. I loved how my curiosity was encouraged and that the field created a never-ending cycle of learning. My first year at Carolina I took an introduction to research course and several laboratory classes that continued to fuel my interest. I began seeking a research position late spring of my freshman year by emailing professors from the Biology department whose research interested me. I was accepted into a summer position at ClinGen, part of the Berg lab, doing computational research in genetics. Later, I received a follow-up email from a lab that was originally full, offering a new opening for the fall semester. I was selected for the position within the Sekelsky lab where I have both volunteered and completed my own project mapping protein-protein interaction.
Research Experiences: My research experience has varied from computational to hands-on and from volunteer work to course study. I have loved each of the unique experiences as they have their own perks and challenges for me to conquer. My favorite opportunity so far has been completing Biology 395 this past semester. Being in the lab for over ten hours each week helped me really get involved in my project. The course also allowed me to experience what it is like to have a career in the research field. Planning my schedule, conducting experiments, and interpreting results are all key skills for achieving my dream of professional research. I was able to learn and expose myself to a lot of new information through my lab mates, and am excited to continue to conduct research on protein-protein interaction and DNA repair with respect to cancer this upcoming fall.
Name: Anna Castellano
Majors: Biomechanical Engineering, Spanish
How/Why Research? I wanted to get involved because I love the hands-on experience in my field and research is a unique opportunity that leads to academic growth. My search started with A LOT of emails to professors who had labs that interested me. I spoke about my interest in their work and asked if we could discuss if further so I could learn more. Though unsuccessful at first, these emails helped me form connections for the future. I received my first position after my major advisor informed me about a professor looking for an undergraduate in his lab. I emailed him and went through the interview process leading to the position. For my second research position, a faculty member spoke to one of my classes discussing his research. I followed up with him asking to meet to hear more about the research. This led to being offered a position in the lab.
Research Experiences: My first research experience, in the Pinton Lab, was meant to get my feet wet in the research setting, which included setting up gelatin phantoms and running MATLAB code to execute the experiments. It provided me with the knowledge and skills needed to advance in the field and eventually build on the experience in my later research. I joined the Gfeller Center to help with their CDC funded TRAIN project designed to educate the middle school population on risks of head injury and measure head impacts using a Prevent Biometrics mouthguard sensor in middle school sports. This experience led me to create my own research project, an experiment that spun-off this research. It is designed to pair the mouthguard data with video evidence to determine the accuracy of the mouthguard sensor system. I am now working on my honors senior thesis through the Gfeller Center using machine learning with medical imaging.
Name: Doris Chen
Majors: Quantitative Biology
Minor: Statistics, Chemistry
How/Why Research? As a first-year student, I learned the importance of research but I did not know if I would enjoy doing research. I thought the only way to figure it our was to find a lab to work at. Then, I attended research fairs and emailed lots of PIs from different labs. At the same time, I tried to make connections with people who were already doing research. Eventually, I found my current lab after several weeks, and I have enjoying working at this lab.
Research Experiences: I started working at my current lab as a paid technician during the second semester of my first year at UNC. I expressed my interests in research, and started to learn basic research techniques directly from a research faculty in the lab. I took one semester of BIOL395H, where I learned how to read and write scientific papers in class, aside from performing experiments in my lab. During the following summer, I was awarded Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), and continued my project. After SURF, I did my second semester of BIOL395, made a poster at the end, and presented it at the BIOL395 Research Poster Symposium. My research experience is one of the most valuable experiences in college. I have found my passion in research, and I will keep research as a part of my career in the future.
Name: Ellie Evans
How/Why Research? At UNC, I’ve personally found that both professors and researchers are eager to provide undergraduate students with opportunities within laboratories across campus. When I decided I wanted to become involved I first spent significant time discovering my potential research interests. I then looked into which specific UNC labs aligned with these interests, and began reaching out via email. After some time, I began receiving responses, and was offered various interviews. I used these interviews as a chance to meet the lab team, talk through scheduling expectations, and better understand my potential responsibilities. Through this process I ultimately found myself taking on a lab position that allows me to work hands-on at the forefront of the field I’m interested in, and learn more than I ever could in a lecture!
Research Experiences: In high school I interned for the Buck Institute for Research on Aging where I participated in a study looked to better understand the relationship between neuropeptide signaling and aging across all species. This past summer I had the opportunity to work for the Stanford Behavioral and Functional Neuroscience Laboratory where I assisted in the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches for neurologic approaches such as stroke, Alzheimer’s, and autism. This year I am excited to start working in the Hingtgen Lab at UNC, working to better understand the potential of stem cell targeted terminal cancer treatment.
Name: Brett Harris
Majors: European Studies, English & Comparative Literature
Minor: Urban Studies and Planning
How/Why Research? My main research experience has been my ENGL 105i course with Dr. Lithgow. In this course, we have formulated research questions, reviews of literature, and written SURF grant proposals and projects. In addition to this course, I have also written a paper exploring the results of different methods of secularization on norm-setting in Russia and Netherlands for HIST 159, and a paper that explores the Homeric Poet’s use of weaving technique and its implications in the Odyssey for CMPL 120.
Research Experiences: I have written a review of literature on the successes and failures of site-specific art installations and interventions to foster productive intercultural dialogue. I wrote a SURF grant proposal to investigate current perspectives on the effects of the Interstate Highway System as related by citizens and urban planners in the St. Louis Metro area. Additionally, I have presented my research on postcolonial customs of arranged marriage and feminist texts in South Asia at the 2019 JASP Symposium. These experiences taught me that a research project is constantly evolving. Sometimes, in order to make your projects feasible, you need to change directions, or consider looking at your project from a different perspective. I have also learned that the University has many resources to help my projects along the way. Likewise, the willingness of faculty members to discuss their own research and inform that of students is an amazing asset that I think students sometimes overlook.
Name: Sriya Kongala
Minors: Spanish for Medical Professions, Medical Anthropology
How/Why Research? I originally became involved in research when I participated in the Summer Research Science Program funded by CREST at NCCU. In my college career, however, I came to my current research position after sending an email to my current lab manager through the biology listserv. I was called in for an interview, and have been volunteering there as an intern since October!
Research Experiences: My high school research provided me with the background lab skills I needed to do well in conducting research as a college student. I conducted a preliminary project using the nematode C. elegans as an environmental model to test the water quality of nearby bodies of water, as the organisms are extremely adept as biological indicators. As a college research intern, I have worked on a clinical research project that aims to determine genetic factors that cause cardiovascular disease, and am also working with mice models to help see the effects that the chemokine CXCL5 have on the onset of coronary artery disease. I’ve learned to do PCR, running gels, dissecting mouse models and even working to prepare mice aortas for study. Research has not only helped me apply and expand my science knowledge and problem-solving skills.
Name: John Kwiatkowski
Minors: Chemistry, Studio Art
How/Why Research? I knew I wanted to become involved in research as a freshman but never imagined I would be able to do research in a professional school. I have been interested in dentistry since early high school and reached out to professors at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry about their projects. I was able to interview with a few professors and began participating in research during the summer after freshman year. Since then, I have volunteered with two different professors and received academic credit through BIOL395.
Research Experiences: Throughout college, I have volunteered with two professors at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry on their respective research projects. My first project was an epidemiological study into the effect of water fluoridation on the oral health of children and the second was an orthodontic study into changes in bone density following treatment. Through these projects, I have gained valuable skills such as statistical analysis, 3D modeling, data collection, and the proposal and execution of research studies. In addition to learning these skills, engaging in research has given me the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge from mentors in my desired profession.
Name: Sneha Makhijani
How/Why Research?I am passionate about research because I enjoy the application of science in analytical and hands-on settings! I first became involved with research when I participated in Amity University’s Biotechnology program. At UNC, I was fortunate to obtain my current research position by emailing the lab manager of my lab. After being called in to interview, I have been a Research Assistant for the Anton Lab since August! Being able to blend fields like neuroscience, biology, and mathematics and apply learnings to real life problems in labs is a rewarding expenditure of knowledge. Whether it’s to do with a mathematical or quantitative piece, or taking objective observations and precise steps in a wet lab setting, I enjoy working to solve complex problems with facts and evidence. I love being able to understand the research process and contribute to a team; advancing the knowledge base of a particular subset of research is an exciting opportunity.
Research Experiences: My research experience consists of a diverse blend of topics relevant to my interests. Currently, I am a Research Assistant at the Anton Lab at UNC which studies developmental mechanisms that guide the emergence of cerebral cortical organization and connectivity. Specifically, we evaluate the effects of RTTN gene mutations on the development of neurological disorders like microcephaly, polymicrogyria, and pachygyria using a BioID methodology to identify interactor proteins. Last summer, I worked as a Research Intern in the PEARLS Lab, where I worked on creating a novel intervention for infants at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, called the Adapted Responsive Teaching (ART) intervention, to improve cognitive abilities, sensory regulation functions, and adaptive behaviors in infants. My high school propelled me into research by providing laboratory and analytical skills. During this time, I spent a year researching road aggression identifying psychological and personality characteristics, attitudes, and beliefs which cause aggressive driving and road rage. The research study yielded a published paper in the Indian Journal of Health & Wellbeing.
Name: Harshi Matada
Majors: Biology, Neuroscience
How/Why Research? Curiosity was the main reason that drove me to find my passion for research. I found multiple opportunities on the OUR website which offered a lot of different research opportunities. I was able to find positions that aligned with my research interests and contacted the research labs through email. After interviewing I learned more about the research lab and their expectations of me and found the lab that worked best for me. Research has not only given me a better knowledge of the skills necessary in lab but has also allowed me to learn new and interesting things about the research I do.
Research Experiences: My first research experience was with the Frohlich Lab, where I worked with ferrets to understand the causal role of brain oscillation in cognition and psychiatric illnesses. My role in the lab involved training the ferrets to do certain tasks and then help perform surgeries to study the interaction between brain stimulation and neural dynamics. Later, I joined the Social Neuroscience and Health Lab, where I helped conduct the CogIn study which looks at the bi-directional links between social stress and inflammation. I assist with the collection and processing of biodata and serve as an experimenter during the Trier Social Stress Task portion of our study. Being a part of research has become a huge part of my identity at college and I hope to continue doing research throughout my future career.
Name: Jash Mirani
Majors: Neuroscience, Biology
How/Why Research? I decided to get involved in undergraduate research in order to engage with a particular microcosm of my field of study more fully. Ever since, research has been an avenue for me to appreciate the complexities and finer details that lie at the cutting edge of Neuroscience research while also enabling me to develop a better understanding of the research process itself. In my remaining year, I hope to continue to supplement my learning with research that challenges me to think critically and expand the breadth of my skills.
Research Experiences: I began my undergraduate research at Dr. Mulligan’s Cognitive Psychology lab, where I investigated various memory related experiences such as the testing effect. The following semester (Fall 2019), I began my work at the UNC Neuroimaging Research and Analysis Laboratories under Dr. Styner as a Gil intern, after which I continued to serve as a research assistant (Spring 2020). I worked on a project called the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), which seeks to identify biomarkers for the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. Specifically, I looked at the extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid volume as a biomarker and conducted both cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis on the data that I first collected from various MRI scans as a Gil intern. During the summer of 2020, I will continue with the data analysis phase of this project as a part of the Summer Award for Research Intensive Courses (SARIC). Throughout these experiences, I have grown to appreciate the rigors of the research process as well as the rewards that accompany them.
Name: Alyson Nelson
Majors: Exercise & Sport Science, Anthropology
Minors: Food Studies
How/Why Research? When I came to Carolina, I had no plans to pursue a research opportunity. After taking a few introductory research classes, I realized how fun research could be when it is about something I loved. In the summer before my sophomore year, I found my current job listed as a work-study opportunity and decided to try for the position. I almost was not even offered an interview! Nevertheless, it worked out; I have been working in my current position for two years and am planning to return for a third.
Research Experiences: In my first year at UNC, I had a special CHEM 102 lab experience that focused on developing research skills while also working to develop and execute a research project along with a small group of my peers. Since my sophomore year, I have been working under Dr. Abbie Smith-Ryan in the Applied Physiology Lab within the EXSS department. Our research focuses primarily on supplementation and training interventions, along with studying body composition and metabolism. I work both directly with participants during training and testing sessions as well as indirectly via data processing and dietary log assessment.
Name: Phoebe Pak
Minors: Chemistry, Medicine in Literature
How/Why Research? Before coming to Carolina, I always have been interested in getting involved in scientific research, yet had very limited experiences. During the fall of my first year, I’ve researched different laboratories and research opportunities for undergraduate students in my interest field: neuroscience and Neurodevelopmental disorders. I was able to find plenty of options through OUR and major/department fairs and advice from my mentors. Then, I narrowed down the list to four labs and sent application emails to the PI about my strong interest in research, and how I became interested in the major topics of the research lab based on my life experiences. After an interview with my Primary Investigator, I became part of my current lab at UNC School of Medicine, Department of Biophysics & Biochemistry since January 2020. Working at a lab has been one of the highlights of my Carolina experiences and strongly recommend joining one to explore your interests. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions! Would love to help
Research Experiences: I research the mechanism of spine pruning in the prefrontal cortex of an adolescent using various scientific methods such as microscopy. This study is relevant to autism and schizophrenia to eventually identify novel mechanisms for spine pruning during adolescent development in the cerebral cortex (of the mammalian brain). developing skills on dendritic and apical spine counting through the program, Neurolucida, preparing solutions for gel electrophoresis and PCR, western blotting, and microscopy. I was also able to learn how to use the laboratory software such as GraphPad Prism for biostatistical analysis, Neurolucida to calculate the dendritic spine density and FIJI program for the image analysis. For Summer 2020, I am interning at the Gilling’s School of Public Health through the Institute of Environmental Health Solutions to conduct research projects in acetaminophen and learn SAS/R language and virtual wet bench training. If you are interested in anything mentioned, hmu!
Name: Benjamin Picciano
Majors: Political Science
Minors: Public Policy
How/Why Research? When I first arrived at Carolina, I knew I wanted to get involved in research, as it was something I did not have much prior experience with. I reached out to faculty in the Department of Political Science who were conducting research that I was interested in and asked them if they had available positions for undergraduate assistants. I soon began to work with Professor Sarah Treul Roberts and her team of researchers on their ongoing project. From this experience, I have learned how to apply the knowledge I have gained from my coursework to a practical endeavor. After becoming more familiarized with the research process, I decided to pursue research of my own in my senior year by writing an honors thesis.
Research Experiences: As a research assistant for Professor Sarah Treul Roberts in the Department of Political Science, I work with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to collect data for an ongoing project that seeks to study the candidates for congress over time. More specifically, my role is to help encode information from the biography and issue pages of the candidates’ websites that will later be used for analysis. I am also working on my honors thesis, which focuses on the relationships between minimum wage and local cost of living in US cities. More specifically, I am researching the extent to which these relationships can predict economic well-being of low-income groups.
Name: Nivi Ramasamy
How/Why Research? The first time I got involved in research was in high school through the Summer Ventures program where I helped study Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in rats at an ECU Neuroscience lab. I had a great experience, and it’s what inspired me to major in Neuroscience and get involved with more research in college. I found the Frohlich lab at a Psych & Neuro Fest hosted by the two departments during the fall of my freshman year, and sent the lab PI an email and resume with my experience. He contacted me for an interview, and that’s where I got my first position here. Taking the IDST 184 class at UNC my first semester also exposed me to different kinds of research we could get involved in, and gave me good tips on contacting professors/ finding positions.
Research Experiences: In my high school research, I mostly did histological work, meaning I worked with the brain tissue in different ways after we sacrificed the rats. I also helped handle rats in other experiments in the lab and intubated rat pups with ethanol/milk solutions to give them FAS so we could test them later. At the Frohlich lab at UNC, I work with ferrets in a project where we’re testing attention in four different parts of the brain. We’re using a method called optogenetics to stimulate these areas as the ferrets perform an attention task, and I run these animal sessions when I’m in the lab. I also perform weekly post-surgery monitoring procedures to maintain the head caps covering the ferrets’ brains. Being in these labs has helped me get insight into how research projects are carried out and has helped me develop new research-related skills.
Name: Netra Ranganathan
How/Why Research? I knew immediately I wanted to get involved in research when I came to Carolina because I had already been involved in research in high school. I found the OUR database of research opportunities and looked through the various positions available. I then found the position I currently have and emailed the head researcher. After interviewing with Dr. Ryoo she was more than happy to have someone as young as a freshmen on her research team and provided me with the opportunity to begin research immediately.
Research Experiences: My research experience really shaped my first year at UNC. I learned to work with a team of other individuals ranging from other undergraduates to PhD students. I became directly involved in the research project two weeks into my freshmen year. Having a research position allowed me to explore ideas more in depth and improve my data analysis skills. I was able to see the overall significance of the work I had been working on all year over the summer when our research team presented our findings to the teachers’ whose classrooms we collect the data in. I also learned how to manage time more efficiently. My research experience has made me become more passionate about the work I have been doing this past year and want to explore into other corresponding areas in the future.
Name: Curtis Smith IV
How/Why Research? During my sophomore year, I took a Research Methods course in Psychology and fell in love with the research process. Being able to develop and answer your own intellectual curiosities was so fascinating to me. Through encouragement and guidance from various mentors, I began looking into different psychology-related research opportunities both at UNC and at other institutions. As a member of the nonprofit organization Helping Give Away Psychological Science (HGAPS), I learned how important it is for research to be disseminated to the public and to academics. Research has the ability to explore new truths and advance the understanding of the field. Through my work in both the Penn and Mood, Emotions, Clinical, and Child Assessment labs, I have gotten to firsthand experience the importance of research.
Research Experiences: I first began working in the Penn Schizophrenia Lab. The lab’s research focuses on social cognition and psychosocial treatment for schizophrenia. My role has consisted of listening to recorded therapy sessions, rating the therapeutic alliance between client and clinician, and assisting with data entry. This past summer, I completed a summer research internship at the Florida Mental Health Institute. In collaboration with a local Family Dependency Treatment Court, I was able to evaluate their effectiveness by analyzing the frequency and determinants of case outcomes. I was able to immerse myself in the court process by witnessing hearings and intake interviews. As a member of the Mood Emotions, and Clinical Child Assessment Lab under Dr. Youngstrom, I have engaged in discourse related to mood disorders, while also completing literature reviews on lab-related topics. I have also been working on my own independent research on psychosocial determinants of recidivism in adolescents.
Name: Sage Snider
How/Why Research? I am pursuing a career in biological research, geared toward ecology and wildlife biology, so I wanted to join a lab to gain more research experience and meet people who are in this field. I wasn’t exactly sure how to get involved, since I had no prior experience or contacts. I met with my biology professor at the time and she recommended I research biology professors and their projects and then contact them explaining my interests and why I want to join their lab. I contacted about five professors about opportunities for the summer. I met with the two who responded and learned more about their lab and research and was given the opportunity to join their labs for the summer and possibly in the future.
Research Experiences: Over the summer of 2018 I volunteered in Laura Miller’s lab by taking care of the corals, upside down jellyfish and the tank system. I also volunteered in Joel Kingsolver’s lab by taking care of the Manduca colony and helped on some field experiments. My favorite part of working in the Kingsolver lab was being able to go out and pick field Manduca from tobacco fields and help check on other field experiments they had at the biological reserve in Mason Farms. I am really interested in field ecology so being able to help in these field collections and monitoring the field experiments was an amazing experience. This semester I was able to help conduct research on upside down jellyfish for credit. I am filming groups of the jellyfish and then going through the videos and finding the frames where they are opening and closing. The data is then analyzed by being run through a program in Matlab and other modeling systems.
Name: Nicole Toms
Major: Environmental Science
Minors: Sustainability, Geographic Information Science
How/Why Research? I was overwhelmed as a first year on a large campus of how to begin research. I began with a work study position, though it took many months of effort. I subscribed to research/science listservs and read bulletin boards and heard about the Thailand Field site led by Dr. Richard Kamens. It was an environmental program focused on chemistry processes and engineering. I contacted Dr. Kamens during my first semester, and he said I lacked classes and would probably have to wait until my junior year. I was disappointed but determined, and I emailed and kept up with him. I pushed myself to take summer classes, and during my sophomore fall semester, he allowed me to enroll in his Thai Culture prep course. I also took my last semester of Chem and was able to secure my permission to attend the field site.
Research Experiences: My favorite thing in research was to learn technological skills. I learned Excel and R studio and how to browse through articles and how to collect necessary information for my research. I did this alongside other peers and it was so great to be supported during points I felt lost or frustrated. In research patience is definitely a virtue, but when you’re going for an end goal in something you’re really passionate about, the patience is worth it. It has been exciting to combine and learn to work with differing strengths and weaknesses of my peer and support group. I had to learn to ask for help; the best work is never done alone because the input of different minds is so important, and it was honestly great to be able to see different perspectives on the same topic and learn to make use of new tools that way.
Name: Sophie Troyer
Majors: Biology, English
Minor: Spanish for Medical Professions
How/Why Research? I’ve been interested in research since middle school, and decided I want to do medical research to help people with chronic health problems, like me. I was interested in UNC because of the quality of medical research, particularly the leading research on the microbiome. At UNC, I started looking through faculty pages to read about their research and find labs. I emailed about 14 labs and interviewed with a few PIs before choosing an immunology lab that investigates the impact of the gut microbiota on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. This research combined two of my interests: immunology and the impact of the microbiota on human health. I learned so much from this research experience — much more than I could have in a classroom — and this experience confirmed that I want to conduct medical research as a career.
Research Experiences: I’ve conducted research in two labs in different research areas and interviewed with many different labs, so I have experience in searching through various labs and in accounting for all necessary considerations. The lab interviews were a great learning opportunity. My research experiences confirmed that I want to conduct research as a career in a scientific field related to medicine, likely immunology or genetics. My former PI pushed me so that my research paper was journal quality; I am now confident in my ability to proceed at graduate-level research.Research increased my confidence in my critical thinking and understanding of science. Through research I am able to indulge my curiosity and examine the way in which a small-scale discovery or experiment can impact the understanding of larger body of knowledge. Research has influenced how I think, and I am particularly glad when I get the chance to apply it in my classes.
Name: EmmaLi Tsai
Major: Environmental Science
Minors: Marine Science, Biology
How/Why Research? During my sophomore year, I decided that I wanted to become more involved in marine science research at UNC to enrich my undergraduate education. To gather a better understanding of the different kinds of marine science research that takes place at UNC, I looked at lab websites, read through some of their publications, and reached out to a few faculty members whose research interested me. After chatting about sea turtles and sensory biology with Dr. Ken Lohmann, I became more involved with the lab by assisting graduate students with a handful of research projects during my sophomore year. I then spent the fall semester of my junior year at the Morehead City Field Site and began my honors thesis under the mentorship of Dr. Joel Fodrie, who focuses on fish population ecology, and Lewis Naisbett-Jones, a graduate student in the Lohmann Lab. Having the opportunity to be involved in research projects from both of these labs has allowed me to combine my interests in fish and animal behavior for my honors thesis.
I am currently working on my honors thesis, which focuses on analyzing how Gulf Flounder, a species of migratory flatfish commonly found around coastal North Carolina, use the Earth’s magnetic field as a navigational aid for their long-distance movements and migrations. More specifically, I am researching if flounder possess a “magnetic map” sense, which would allow them to use the Earth’s magnetic field to determine their relative position, similar to a GPS. To build the sample size for my experiments, I applied for undergraduate research funding and was able to spend the summer semester of 2019 conducting research at UNC-Institute of Marine Science (UNC-IMS). While there, I had the opportunity to chat with graduate students about their graduate school experience and lend a hand with their research projects in the field. This incredible experience has allowed me to develop my research skills, experience other research areas of marine science, and has solidified my interest in studying fish ethology in graduate school!
Name: Autumn Tucker
Major: Computer Science, Neuroscience
Minors: Medicine in Literature
How/Why Research? I came into college knowing that I was interested in neuropharmacology and medicine, especially within mental health and disorders. I was encouraged to get involved in research at UNC to explore this path further and get some hands-on experience. I didn’t know much about the process coming in but I started by searching neuropharmacology at UNC and looking through the faculty pages that came up to learn more about their specific projects. I reached out to those that fit my interests to ask about available positions and briefly outline my interests and qualifications. After a few interviews, I chose a lab studying neuroimmunology in alcohol use disorders. This lab experience has been invaluable in helping me develop both important lab skills and a better understanding of the field I plan to enter to confirm my interest and help me prepare for it.
Research Experiences: I work in the Crews Lab in the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, where I have primarily been working on a project studying the effects of alcohol abuse on Alzheimer’s pathology. We primarily use mice models to observe the relationships between the two disorders, in terms of neuroimmunology and neuropharmacology. I’ve been able to get some experience with almost every aspect of the process to develop basic and diverse skills and slowly start moving to more advanced skills. I’ve also learned a lot from working with grad students and faculty in the lab who have given me advice about my goals and provided incredibly useful mentorship. My roles shift throughout different stages of the project but I have spent the majority of my time treating the mice, preparing brain tissue for observation, and running protein samples in electrophoresis.
Name: Deep Upadhyay
Minor: Public Policy
How/Why Research? I have been engaged in biomedical research since high school, and have found it to be a valuable experience in preparing for a future career in medicine. Research is a way to expand the learning done in the class to a practical space, and I find this application to be rewarding intellectually. Research also allows the mixing of different fields of study, and I have supplemented my biological research experiences with clinical research projects that measure treatment efficacy in oncology patients.
Research Experiences: I currently work in the Bloom Lab in the Department of Biology. Most of the projects I help with involve applying computer science and machine learning to the imaging of important biological structures, such as the kinetochore. This experience has been valuable in showing me the various ways in which different disciplines can contribute to investigation. I also help with clinical research performed by an oncologist at UNC hospitals, and have worked on projects ranging from cataloguing costs for common cancer screening procedures to cataloguing the effectiveness of novel treatments.
Name: Avery Wall
Minor: Cognitive Science, Linguistics
How/Why Research? I had never considered myself particularly interested in research, so when I took a research-intensive course in high school at the very end of my senior year, I had low expectations. However, it ended up being one of the most enjoyable and pivotal experiences of my life. Trying to design a study while accounting for confounding variables was like a puzzle, and I even had fun sitting in the classroom, grading the tests for my study, while other students trained their hissing cockroaches behind me. This made it clear to me that I was passionate about research, and that I wanted to explore more in college. I applied to various volunteer positions during my first semester, but my first lab experience came after I met with a professor whose research I was fascinated by, simply to learn more about the field. Research positions are highly coveted and most people get rejected at least a few times before they find something, so don’t feel bad when you never hear back from a lab – it happens to all of us. My advice is to put yourself out there, but make sure you focus on finding an opportunity that fits your interests because that’s where you’ll cultivate the best relationships and experiences.
Research Experiences: I started working in Dr. Neil Mulligan’s lab during the spring semester of my freshman year and have worked there since, studying memory phenomena such as the Testing Effect, Transitive Inference, and the Attentional Boost Effect. For the past year, I have been working in Dr. Jennifer Arnold’s psycholinguistics lab, where I am currently designing a study on how gesture salience impacts pronoun interpretation. I also spent my sophomore year working with Dr. Kate Weisshaar in the sociology department, where I assisted with a study looking at racial and gender discrimination in hiring. Lastly, I am a part of the Gil Internship Cohort for the Fall of 2020. I have experience applying to all manner of research positions (volunteer, paid research assistant, work study, Psyc 395/Independent Research, and internships), so I am happy to answer questions about any of these processes!
Name: Emily Wang
How/Why Research? I became involved in research during high school as a way to explore my scientific interests outside of the classroom in a hands-on manner. Fortunately, I was able to participate in a Research in Computational Science program my school offered that greatly expanded upon my knowledge of various scientific techniques. It also helped me realize my passion for applying computational tools to various biological and health applications. In college, I was excited to continue my research journey and began looking for areas that interested me. Luckily, my peer research mentor sent me a listing for a position in a lab that perfectly matched my interests, and I ended up applying for it. I have been working there ever since and absolutely love what I do! These experiences have also affirmed my decision to pursue a career that includes research.
Research Experiences: I was lucky enough to gain some research experiences during high school which helped me develop my interests in certain fields, particularly in health and medical applications. One project I worked on was helping develop better segmentation techniques for imaged head and neck cancer cells using various tools such as MATLAB and ImageJ. Currently, as an undergraduate research assistant, I am working on a project in the X-Lab aiming to analyze mental health symptoms using computational tools for an increased understanding of mental illnesses. It has been an eye-opening experience learning about different techniques from my lab mates and witnessing the clinical aspects of research. I have not only learned so much about the field and developed much stronger research skills but have also gained greater confidence in sharing my work with others.
Name: Laura Wilder
Majors: Global Studies and Italian
How/Why Research? I started my journey with research in the liberal arts following my first experience abroad during the summer of 2018. I visited Venice, Italy and discovered the rich culture of Burano, a small island off of Venice, and found myself being drawn to their lace making industry. Having a passion for needlework myself, I knew that I wanted to take my interest in the Burano art form further; upon returning to UNC that fall, I applied and received the UNC Robinson Honors Fellowship to pursue research there. Prior to receiving the fellowship, research in the liberal arts had never crossed my mind. Traditionally, STEM fields produce vast amounts of research, so I never considered it to be a potential opportunity for me. After my experience in Burano this summer, I realized how important it is for all fields to consistently ask new questions and to dig deeper in order to progress. As an ambassador for the Romance Languages Department, I hope that I can instill a spark of excitement in undergrads to pursue their questions and to discover the endless research possibilities within the liberal arts!
Research Experiences: I spent six weeks in Burano, Italy researching the lace making art form and industry. Specifically, I explored the changes over time to the art form and the effects of these changes to both the durability of the trade and the artists themselves. I even had the opportunity to take lace making classes myself! During my time in Burano, I developed relationships with my teachers and interviewed them along with other artists on the island about their personal experiences with lace. I spent the weekends traveling around Italy to Milan, Rome, Lake Trasimeno, and later to Brussels, Belgium in order to visit fashion museums and lace exhibitions. After returning and reflecting on my findings, I am currently working on developing a document that both shares my interviewees’ stories and suggestions on how to improve the viability of lace within these communities for years to come!
Name: Peng Xu
Majors: Computer Science, Neuroscience
How/Why Research? I did my first research on Chinese high school student’s attitude towards LGBT groups in the 10th grade. I was significantly impressed by the power the quantatitive psychology approaches brought to the analysis of the raw data and how much it can tell us about the human’s mind, and thus decided to continue doing psychology research in the college. During the first year, I had reached out to a tons of labs but got rejected by most of them due to the lack of prior knowledge and the language/culture barrier as an international student. Eventually, I was accepted by another Chinese PhD candidate to help with his clinical psychology program, and everything became easier after that since I have had the first experience.
Research Experiences: In order to further figure out my potential interests in psychology/neuroscience, I have been working in 4 different labs in social psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive neuroscience and system neuroscience respectively. I first worked with Dr. Yun Chen to look into the treatment of depression for Chinese international students, and then learned video coding of the positive emotions invoked by couples’ interctions from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Jieni Zhou. Right now, I am assistanting Dr. Amanda Elton with her college student neuroimaging study of the relationship between impulsivity and alcohol use disorder, taking MRI scans for the participants on my own and writing a reivew paper together. Last summer, I joined Wang Lab in Duke to help with their pain research on rodents and have been learning how to observe and train these cute little creatures and use the computational methods to analyze the components and structure of neural circuits since then. These experiences all mean a lot to me and help shape my understanding of the research.
Name: Diane Youngstrom
Majors: Chemistry, Neuroscience
How/Why Research? Research bridges my curiosity and love of science. I was introduced to research at a young age through my dad, who is a bipolar disorder researcher at UNC. In highschool, I had a blast with a couple in-depth, extracurricular experiences: comparing mood and personality data from classes taught in Seoul and Chapel Hill and investigating THERMIS data from NASA on Martian soil. I wanted to fill the summer between my college freshman and sophomore years with an international research experience, so I emailed the Choi lab in Seoul, which studies the functional neuroanatomy of metabolism regulation. I contacted the Sheridan CIRCLE lab at the end of my freshman year and started volunteering during the fall semester of my sophomore year. All of my research experiences have had a tremendous impact on who I am and have shown me the power of collaboration, scientific discussions, and strong mentors.
Research Experiences: I was a research assistant in the Sheridan CIRCLE lab in the UNC Psychology& Neuroscience Department from Fall 2018 to Spring 2020. I assisted with fMRI scans, data analysis, and 3D printing participant’s brains using converted MRI files. The research questions about how adversity impacts brain development were fascinating and my experience in this lab helped me grow as a person and scientist. The Diering lab (School of Medicine Department of Cell Biology and Physiology) explores the causes, consequences, and molecular basis of sleep and memory through biochemistry techniques. I started working with graduate student Shenee Martin’s research on the impact of sleep disruptions on the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease in August, 2019. As part of Chem395, my independent project involves treating primary neuron cultures to investigate the relationship between tau aggregation, neuroinflammation, and excitotoxicity. I will work on my Senior Honors Thesis in the Diering lab this coming year.
Name: Wuhang Yu
Majors: Psychology and Economics
How/Why Research? I decided to take part in research since I thought it was a unique opportunity to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of my studies. It feels different than learning in class and it’s gratifying to participate in each step of the research process. I initially reached out to several labs by visiting their websites and reading posted paperS to see if their interest areas matched with mine. Then I contacted the lab directors, whose email address was also public on the website, to express my interests in joining lab as an assistant and ask if there is any open position. I eventually got a yes from CASL and have joined it for two semesters.
Research Experiences: I’ve been assisting in Dr. Kristen Lindquist’s Carolina Affective Science Lab (in the Psychology and Neuroscience Department), where I have contributed to several emotion studies, including examining the interaction of concept knowledge and core affect, looking at how children choose emotion images under the influence of a sentence frame, and analyzing participants’ performance under trier social stress test. I have run over 50 participants in one semester and evaluated 3 participants’ performance in TSST in last semester, imported data for almost 300 participants’ data in one month, and used Qualtrics to help design kid study’s questionnaires, etc. They proved to be tremendously helpful because encouraged self-reflection: what was the goal in doing TSST, what were the levels manipulated, how were the manipulation presented in the session, etc. Doing research not only trains me to think “how am I going to do this,” but also to ask “why am I doing this?”