About OUR

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.

If you are an undergraduate with research experience, consider serving as an OUR Student Ambassador. If you are interested in serving as an ambassador, email our@unc.edu for more information about the process.

Name: Anna Castellano
Email: akcast@live.unc.edu
Majors: Biomechanical Engineering, Spanish
Minor: Chemistry

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
Email: qinyuan@live.unc.edu
Majors: Quantitative Biology
Minor: N/A

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 then started my individual research project and took BIOL395H, where I researched in the lab and learned how to read and write scientific papers. I then applied for a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. My research experience is by far my most valuable experience in college. Thanks to my research experience, I found my passion in research, and I want research to be a part of my career in the future.

Name: Benjamin Chilampath
Email: benchil@live.unc.edu
Major: Psychology
Minor: Biology

How/Why Research? In high school, I got involved in neurology research and I fell in love with the fields of biology and psychology. I particularly became interested in addiction medicine and how drug and substance addiction could make permanent damage to the human body. When I came to UNC, I took several biology and psychology courses and my interest strengthened. I asked several professors about their specific research and consulted an OUR ambassador who informed me about the OUR research database. I applied to several of the lab openings on the database as well as emailed faculty members involved in psychology/biology research at UNC and Duke about discussing their work.

Research Experiences: My research experiences have had a great influence on who I am as a student and as a person. Through research, I have flourished as a student inside and outside the classroom. I have been able to apply what I am learning in academics to what I am doing in the lab and vise-versa. Since I have been involved in research, I grew in my leadership and teamwork skills as well. My experiences in research have built on my character as well as molded me to become a thinker and a better student. I believe college is a time for immense intellectual as well as personal growth and my involvement in research is allowing me to achieve this. I look forward to continue growing as well as pursuing my dreams.

Name: Peter Compton
Email: pete6242@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minor: Spanish for Medical Professions, Chemistry

How/Why Research? I’ve always been interested in research because of the prospect of making discoveries that will have far-reaching impact, such as designing new medicines, gaining a better understanding of certain diseases, and solving issues of public health. Before I got involved, I had no idea what specific project I wanted to work on, but . ebsites online, trying to find descriptions of labs that might interest me. I emailed Dr. Mark Peifer, who runs a lab specializing in the role of the actin cytoskeleton during drosophila development. Fortunately he had a position in the lab available for an undergraduate, so I started research for credit, working closely with a post-doc.

Research Experiences: I have worked in Mark Peifer’s lab studying the effects of certain oncogenes using fruit flies as a model organism. I am currently focusing on how certain proteins and signaling pathways affect the central nervous system and their specific roles during development. Although it’s been a steep learning curve, the work has so far been very fulfilling both through the many aspects of discovery involved as well as the feeling of being part of the forefront of people working to solve cancer and many other complex human and biological questions.

Name: Delane Dixon
Email: dixon20d@live.unc.edu
Major: African American Studies
Minor: N/A

How/Why Research? I got into research because I have always been one to ask questions. As I have gotten older I have noticed that I enjoy getting to understand how an individual’s lived experiences impact the decisions they make and society at large. Completing research in the humanities and social sciences allow me to explore the identities of individuals while also synthesizing how they live and experience society.

Research Experiences: My initial approach was to interview all the employees to survey their race, first language, birthplace and what they thought was the greatest hindrance to their patients, and how they thought their race or language impacted the experience of their patients. After completing the interviews I realized that there were some problems that I did not initially account for and had to change my approach. Being a person who studies the African African American Diaspora I realized that my understanding of race, especially with regard to racial identities of people from Mexico, central America, and south america, was heavily constructed based upon the idea that slavery impacted a significant portion of their population and that people from that area would racially consider themselves black or ethnic. I did not, however, know enough prior information on the boundaries of ethnicity identification and I did not want to guide their answers nor did I feel comfortable with passively concluding ones ethnic identity. When changing my approach I went for a more qualitative approach; I spent six hours a week for the whole summer looking for any trends that I noticed; including race, language, amount of children and other elements. At the end of summer, I went back and did an exit interview with the office manager to better understand what I had observed throughout the summer. I realized that the main absence or “cavity” in the rural pediatric dental community comes from language, medical procedures offered, disabilities of patients, age, payment method and environment. These experiences provided me with an understanding of why it is important to have diverse doctors because they bring their own unique approaches to their communities, it also showed me the possibilities of the types of work I could bring into my own community as a doctor.

Name: Alex Eaker
Email: aeaker@live.unc.edu
Major: Neuroscience
Minor: Medical Anthropology, Chemistry

How/Why Research? I knew coming into UNC that I wanted to participate in undergraduate research because I developed a passion and aptitude for science in high school. The summer before my sophomore year at UNC, I received an email from my major adviser advertising a lab opening; I applied because the work sounded fascinating and it seemed like the perfect way to begin research at UNC. Although I wasn’t accepted for the position because of timing issues, I kept in contact with the lab manager about other openings in the lab. She eventually offered me a work-study position, where I worked as a lab assistant (washing, sterilizing, etc.) for a semester, and was then asked to become a research volunteer for the next semester (along with my work-study position). Since then, I’ve held both a lab assistant (paid) and research intern (unpaid) position in the lab.

Research Experiences: Because I hold two different positions in my lab, I’ve gotten well-rounded experiences in research. Not only do I have experience in bench and mouse research work, I’ve also gotten to work on the administrative side of the lab. My lab conducts biomedical research using a mouse model, so my research repertoire includes lots of mouse-related work: collecting, processing, and analyzing proteins from mice, mouse behavioral testing, and (most recently) collecting, staining, and imaging mouse embryos at different stages in gestation to study embryonic development. My time doing administrative work has allowed me to understand what it takes to run a lab, including project/procedural planning and personnel management. Lab experiences have helped me develop better critical thinking, problem solving, and planning skills. My confidence in science, research, and academia in general has improved because I’m able to put the science and research skills that I learn in the classroom into action in a real-world setting. Research has also helped define my later plans in life: instead of a medical school path, I realized a career in research was for me after working in my lab. Being able to actually see the impact research can make in society made me realize that doing research is an important job and helped shape my goal to earn my PhD in Neuroscience after undergrad.

Name: Ellie Evans
Email: ellieevs@live.unc.edu
Major: Neuroscience
Minor: Business

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: Robert Fisher
Email: robertro@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minors: Chemistry, Neuroscience

How/Why Research? I had an internship at Goulston Inc. the summer after my first year where I was able to head a project and experience what R&D is like in corporate industry. While there, I experienced many challenges that were intimidating at first, but became super rewarding as I worked through adversity and developed new ways of solving problems. Because of this experience, I decided to join the Phanstiel Lab when I got back to school for my sophomore year. Since then, I have worked in the lab for over a year and a half doing research for credit and this past summer I received SURF funding to continue pursuing research in an academic setting. These experiences have validated my love for research and urged me to go to grad school for molecular biology/genetics in the future.

Research Experiences: While in high school I was able to partake in a mentorship program in Duke’s Biological Studies archaea group for several weeks. Then, this past summer I had a full-time internship at a chemistry company called Goulston Inc. However, I really wanted to get acquainted with research within academia. Academic research provides a smaller, more collaborative environment that isn’t completely dominated by monetary incentive. Since entering research here I think it has pushed me towards graduate school and eventual academic research.

Name: Enrique Guerra
Email: quique@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minors: Philosophy, Chemistry

How/Why Research? In order to see whether or not research was something I wanted to do, I began reaching out to researchers at UNC the summer after graduating from high school. I was particularly interested in combining scientific research with travel in order to become involved in less developed areas of the world. A friend introduced me to a few professors, one of whom gave me tips on how to make contact with a PI and choose a lab. I approached PIs doing research that resonated with me and considered my options. The de Silva lab was particularly impressive to me, as they were focused on emerging tropical diseases, namely Zika and dengue virus, so I began volunteering there during my first year at Carolina.

Research Experiences: During my volunteer research experience my first semester, my PI, Dr. de Silva, made it a priority that I attend meetings and conferences so that I became exposed to the broad array of research happening in the field of virology, in addition to helping me learn how to conduct certain experiments in the lab. Through acquiring an official position in the lab and eventually completing a SURF, I have worked on projects involving cohorts ranging from Sri Lankan children to Puerto Rican macaques and have had the pleasure of meeting collaborating researchers from Brazil to the Philippines. Being involved in these projects has greatly broadened my perspective of the world as I learned how disease is studied not only through its biological contexts, but through sociopolitical lenses as well.

Name: Emma Halker
Email: emmaemma@live.unc.edu
Majors: Biology
Minors: Spanish for the Medical Professions

How/Why Research? I originally got into research to broaden my horizons as a pre-med student. I did not realize how much I would learn and grow as a person. The summer berfore college, I joined the Haas Lab at Wake Forest School of Medicine as an unpaid volunteer. I learned a great deal about how laboratories worked and what kind of experiments labs typically ran. As a first year at UNC, I applied for a position in the Mackman Laboratory at UNC School of Medicine. For a year, I performed PCR, gel electrophoresis, and general lab maintenance. I then I applied for a laboratory job in the Kieber lab during my sophomore year. I eventually got the position and was awarded a SURF grant for the summer of 2018.

Research Experiences: I began my time in the Mackman Laboratory at UNC School of Medicine primarily performing polymerase chain reactions, gel electrophoresis and other lab maintenance. I learned how to best do laboratory math, pour a gel, and fix a master mix. I was exposed to the research that the post docs in the lab were doing. A lab technician, Alyson, took great interest in the undergraduates in the lab, teaching us how to be scientists. Every week at lab meetings, we would read papers and interpret figures, and I learned how to actually interpret the results of the experiments I was performing. Without Alyson, I would never have been able to understand the reasons behind the PCRs and the gel electrophoresis. Additionally, she helped me to apply for a SURF grant, under supervision of Dr. Mackman.

Name: Brett Harris
Email: yorick22@live.unc.edu
Majors: European Studies, English & Comparative Literature
Minor: N/A

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: Cole Kilpatrick
Email: colekirk@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minors: Chemistry, Neuroscience

How/Why Research? My involvement in research started in high school when I was chosen for a position performing computational biology research with Jackson Laboratory in Maine. Through this program, I investigated mice genomes using quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis and a variety of software programs (Mathematica, R, Vensim, Python, etc.). I applied to this program so that I could further my involvement and knowledge in STEM related fields. I decided to get involved in order to achieve my future goals. Capitalizing on this opportunity helped me achieve my goal of furthering my involvement at a prestigious university while increasing the complexity of topics.

Research Experiences: In addition to my Jackson Laboratory research, I did research at Duke University through Matsunami Laboratory. This wet biology research focused on the effect that odor stimulation has on pseudogenes that undergo stopcodon read-through. The hands-on experience of this summer internship really drove my passion for research. I began my freshmen year working in O’Brien Laboratory at UNC. My project was largely focused on kidney development. In my junior year, I worked at the Bergmeier laboratory investigating the downstream effects of Rap1 regulation based on integrin activation in platelets. I have realized that choosing the right lab is important. For me, Bergmeier lab allows me to perform research in a proactive environment along with a subject that I am passionate about, blood platelet thrombosis.

Name: Sriya Kongala
Email: skongala@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
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: Cherish Miller
Email: cherish@live.unc.edu
Majors: English, Psychology
Minors: Medicine, Literature, and Culture

How/Why Research? I went to a early college school at Western Kentucky University that heavily encouraged students to pursue research while attending college. That encouragement and guidance from faculty at that school taught me how to find research opportunities and speak to professors about their research. I also wanted to learn more about the field of psychology and gain experience for graduate school.

Research Experiences: I worked in a Child Development research lab at WKU for one semester. While working there, I was part of a coding team working with videos. We were also required to read scientific papers and write critical reviews of them. I am currently working in a Social Psychology lab here at UNC (The EASIR Lab under Dr. Algoe). While working in this lab, I have worked on multiple coding teams working with many different types of data, including videos and survey responses. I have also done data entry, data collection with participants, and worked on experimental design and fine tuning (i.e. editing questions, experiment guidelines, etc.).

Name: Jessica Mory
Email: jessmory@live.unc.edu
Majors: Biology, Neuroscience
Minors: Chemistry

How/Why Research? During my first two years at UNC, I was unsure of what I wanted to do after graduating. Research was an option, but I wasn’t sure about the logistics, how to get involved, or if it was something I would even enjoy. After gaining a bit of hands-on experience in my introductory biology and chemistry labs, it appealed to me more. During my sophomore year, I attended Gidi Shemer’s presentation about getting involved in biology research, and followed a link he provided for the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program, where I read the research descriptions for each lab. I made a long list of the neuroscience-related labs and contacted about ten labs before interviewing with the Stein Lab.

Research Experiences: I began working in Jason Stein’s lab, first as a volunteer, then as a work-study student. The main goal of the lab is to identify how common genetic variants in the human population influence the structure and function of the developing brain. My role has mainly consisted of sustaining multiple cell types in culture, as well performing immunocytochemistry experiments, assisting with data entry, and digitally tracing nuclei in images used to train an automated cell segmentation program. I give short presentations in lab meetings regarding my results and progress, which requires me to organize and analyze my data. Research has bettered my critical thinking skills and developed my practical knowledge about cell culture and experimental techniques. It has shown me the practical side of the theories I’ve learned in my classes, and overall given me much more confidence in my abilities as a student and a scientist.

Name: Darshana Panda
Email: panda15@live.unc.edu
Major: Chemistry
Minor: Neuroscience

How/Why Research? I got involved in conducting research after I attended a few talks about finding research opportunities during my freshman year. My interest in research sparked after I took a course in genetics and molecular biology. I was eager to apply the genetics/biochemistry techniques I had learnt in a classroom setting to real life. Additionally, since I was considering going to medical school, some of my peers had recommended to get involved in research to gain some experience in the lab aspect of medicine.

Research Experiences: My research experiences have been intellectually challenging yet rewarding. Initially when I started working at the lab, I was bit overwhelmed at the amount of background information and instructions on how to perform certain procedures was thrown at me. However, after slowing understanding the exactly what I would be researching and how I would do it, my curiosity in actually conducting the research tremendously increased. Being involved in research has allowed me to participate in the world of academia and contribute to science something that is much bigger than myself. Moreover, my research experience has allowed to not only apply classroom concepts in a real world setting but also balance this responsibility along with my other coursework and commitments.

Name: Netra Ranganathan
Email: netranga@live.unc.edu
Major: Statistics
Minor: N/A

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: Viraj Rapolu
Email: virajr@live.unc.edu
Major: Quantitative Biology, Computer Science
Minor: Chemistry

How/Why Research? About halfway through my sophomore year, I considered dropping the idea of medical school. At that moment, I didn’t know what to do with my career. I had majors in two very different fields: Biology and Computer Science. I talked to an OUR Ambassador, and was suggested to look at Computational Biology research. I looked through several websites that listed UNC faculty members, and emailed at least a dozen professors. I met with those who responded, discussing my skill set and how it would fit into their projects. In the end, I decided to work in the Furey Lab.

Research Experiences: Since deciding to work at the Furey Lab, I have taken two semesters of research for credit, and have spent a summer in the lab. What started with a curiosity in the field transformed into an excellent experience that has been a crucial part of my undergraduate experience. In working on an independent project, I met with my PI, Terry Furey, on a weekly basis to adjust the road map we laid out. I love the environment and the work involved so much that I decided to pursue a PhD in Computational Biology. In summer 2019, I joined a research program hosted by the Weill Cornell College of Medicine at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where I work on developing machine learning models to work with CITE-seq data. As a whole, I have grown tremendously since starting my research experience. These environments utilize my unique skill set, and have pointed me in the right direction for the future.

Name: Sage Snider
Email: sages@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry

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
Email: nikinoel@live.unc.edu
Major: Environmental Science
Minors: Biology, Geography

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
Email: sobrea1@live.unc.edu
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
Email: emtsai@live.unc.edu
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.

Research Experiences:

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: Deep Upadhyay
Email: dupadhyay17@unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minor: Public Policy

How/Why Research? In high school, I observed and engaged in various guided research projects in the biological sciences. During my freshman year at Johns Hopkins University, I knew I wanted to engage in research in the biomedical sciences. I reached out to a professor in the Biology department at Hopkins, and helped investigate protein folding and its ramifications. After transfering to UNC, I wanted to continue helping with and working on research, both in the lab and clinically. I helped with a clinical research project in the Radiation Oncology Department in the UNC School of Medicine. I have also accepted a wet lab position in the laboratory of Dr. Andrew Wang, also in the department of Radiation Oncology, and will start in the Spring.

Research Experiences: I undertook two research internships in high school. In one, I helped a gynecologist investigate inflammation leading to premature birth in mice and how to prevent it. I also worked in a lab searching for the causes of Prader-Willi syndrome using CRISPR technology. At Hopkins, I was able to work in the Kaiser Lab, performing the aforementioned work into protein folding. This allowed me to learn about experimental design in addition to experimental procedure, as I was able to help plan the experiment and see how it would contribuite to the overall goal of the lab. This experience was also immensely helpful in self-direction, as I was able to see what goes into the work required when designing and carrying out an experiment independently.

Name: Hannah Whitt
Email: hwhitt98@live.unc.edu
Major: Biology
Minors: Chemistry, Neuroscience

How/Why Research? I went onto UNC School of Dentistry’s website and looked at current faculty involved in research. From there, I went through the different departments and contacted faculty whose research interested me. Thankfully, I was not discouraged when I did not receive a large amount of responses. Dr. David Zajac responded and met with me to discuss my interest in research. I have been with his lab for a year now, and am currently in the process of becoming published in the Craniofacial Journal for my work completed last year! I was able to get course credit for research, so last semester I received 3 credit hours for BIOL 395. Today, I continue to work an ongoing project, and I continue to look forward to my time spent in the lab.

Research Experiences: From the beginning of my research involvement in Dr. David Zajac’s lab, I felt as though I was making a difference in Craniofacial research. My research is aimed at determining the effects of age and cleft type on the production of both stop and fricative contrasts in young children with repaired cleft lip and palate (CLP), repaired cleft palate (CP), and typically-developing (TD) children. From this, I determined the phonetic accuracy of phonetic articulations and objective spectral moments in children between the ages of 3 and 4. My findings in this particular study proved to be statistically significant, and as such my conclusions are in the process of being published in the Craniofacial Journal. Not only has my involvement increase my love for research, but it also has confirmed my passion to creatively mold smiles as a dentist.

Name: Laura Wilder
Email: lkwilder@live.unc.edu
Majors: Global Studies and Italian
Minor: Entrepreneurship

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!

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