|1. What is your
specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or
I work in the Peterson/de
la Maza laboratory in the Department of Pathology, at the UCI College
of Medicine, under the supervision of Dr. Ellena Peterson. My current
research project focuses on the development of new diagnostic assays
for Chlamydia pneumoniae, a human respiratory tract pathogen.
|2. When and how
did you first get involved in research?
In the summer of 2000, just before I was to transfer
to UCI, I was accepted into the Orange County Bridge to Biomedical
Research (OCBBR) Program. The OCCBR Program provides community
college students with the opportunity to work full-time in a research
laboratory over the course of a summer in order to expose students
to the various careers available in the world of biomedical research.
Despite having no previous exposure to "research," I
jumped at the chance to be a part of the program. After two weeks
of basic laboratory training, the students were asked to contact
laboratories they might be interested in working in. I chose to
contact Dr. Peterson's laboratory because of my longstanding interest
in pathology-if it has the potential to cause disease within my
body, I want to know about it! One interview later and I was working
in the lab. When I officially started school at UCI in the fall
of 2000, I continued to work in the lab both as part of my academic
curriculum, via Biology 199, and through my participation in the
Minority Biomedical Research Support Program.
|3. How has research
enhanced you education?
My father has always likened the learning process
and the acquisition of an education to assembling a toolbox in
order to build a house. I don't think I truly understood this analogy
until I began my research experience. The countless hours I spent
preparing for my biochemistry test provided me with some knowledge
of antibody binding and the importance of protein conformation.
However, it was only while working on my research project that
I was able to use this knowledge, or this "tool," to
approach and solve a real world problem. Therefore, while my classes
equip me with my "tools," or various pieces of knowledge,
it is my experience in the lab that has shown me how to use them.
|4. What has been
you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories
or specific events)?
My favorite research experience
happened soon after I had joined the lab. I truly believe I will
remember it for the rest of my life. A senior post-doctoral member
of the lab staff had been teaching me the basics of sodium dodecyl
polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and Western blot
analysis using monoclonal antibodies.
While showing our Western blot films to Dr. Peterson in order
to determine the proper antibody concentrations for later projects,
she noted the absence of a particular low-molecular weight band.
The post-doc indicated that either the sample we used did not
contain that particular molecule or that the concentration of
antibody used to detect the molecule was too low. Something must
have clicked in my brain because all of a sudden I blurted out
that the molecule was definitely in our sample, but that it must
have diffused out of the gel. The post-doc sat staring at me
while stroking his beard and finally said, very quietly, "You
are wrong." The small, sane part of my mind wanted to acquiesce
that, yes, of course I was wrong, after all what did I know?
I had only been in the lab for a few weeks, and I had only run
a handful of gels. But when I opened my mouth to agree with him
I instead said, "No, you're wrong." I don't know who
was more shocked, the post-doc or me.
After a few more rounds of brilliant verbal sparring, which
basically involved repeating "You're wrong," and "No,
you're wrong," Dr. Peterson finally called a halt to the
matter when she looked straight at me and said, with a small
smile, "Prove him wrong." I thought I was going to
faint-not only did I contradict the post-doc, but now my mentor
was placing her faith in me, an undergraduate student with a
mere six weeks of laboratory exposure! I had no idea where to
start or what to do to prove my point.
Dr. Peterson and I sat down to design a small experiment and
three days later my new Western films proved my hypothesis was
correct. The molecule was in our sample, and the antibody concentration
used was adequate; it was the excess time spent in the buffer
while other gels were being prepared for transfer that allowed
the small molecule to diffuse out of the gel. When presented
with the results the post-doc laughed and took it in stride.
Even now, to this day, he laughs about it.
I will always remember how it felt when my mentor supported
and encouraged me to use what knowledge of scientific methodology
that I possess to prove my point. I will always remember the
elation I felt when my results agreed with my hypothesis. More
importantly, I will always remember that you should never back
down from your position solely because you feel intellectually
inferior or inexperienced. You never know, you may be right!
|5. What are your
future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare
you to meet your goals?
This is the $1,000,000 question! Whereas I had
previously thought I wanted to pursue a medical career in pathology,
I am currently in limbo. Graduate programs in public health and
epidemiology, genetics and microbiology are all now viable options,
and as of yet, my future is undecided. Regardless of the career
path that I eventually pursue, my research experience has provided
me with three invaluable ingredients for a successful future. The
exposure to the various arenas of biomedical research has piqued
my interests and has allowed me to realize that the possibilities
for my future are unlimited. The confidence I have in myself as
a result of my research experience, both as a student and as a
budding scientist, will allow me to pursue the career path I finally
choose. And most importantly, I now have, instilled within me,
not only the desire to learn more, but also the means to acquire
|6. What advice would
you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate
research project or creative activity?
First and foremost, choose a research area that
interests you. Having said that, do your own research on the individual
labs; how many prior students have they had, and what types of
successes have those students had? Also, it is crucial to feel
comfortable in the laboratory environment and to have a good rapport
with the lab members, including your faculty mentor. However, the
most important piece of information I would like to impart is to
remember that your first obligation is to your studies. Do not
join a laboratory, no matter how prestigious it may be, if it requires
more of your time than you feel comfortable with, and don't allow
your grades to suffer for the sake of your research. Find a balance
between your classes and your research, and have fun!
Past Researchers of the Month