Laleh Boroujerdi-Rad

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

I am an undergraduate research student in Dr. Sudhir Gupta's immunology laboratory at the School of Medicine, and I work under the guidance of Professor Sastry Gollapudi. While the focus of the laboratory is to understand the mechanisms of immune decline as people age, my project involves understanding how an environmental pollutant called Dioxin may interfere with the immune system.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I was very eager and began looking for research the summer before I enrolled at UCI. I e-mailed approximately 20 professors and received interviews from only two. I was very young, had no research experience and did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do, which made it difficult for faculty members to offer me a position.

One of my interviews was with Dr. Gupta, and I think he saw the potential in me, and he accepted me with the stipulation that if I did well in my Fall and Winter courses, he would allow me to start in the Spring. Although it eventually worked out, I would not recommend this approach to other students. Before beginning a search, the most important thing to do is to find out what you are interested in. Don't assume a career in medicine requires that you do basic science or clinical research in medicine. Pick a topic that excites you, something you talk about with your friends or what you constantly find yourself reading about. Find out what this passion is and pick the professor and research accordingly. UROP is a great resource for finding research. They have a very effective and systematic approach and I recommend that all students meet with a UROP counselor.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has enhanced my education in every imaginable way. My research has taken me around to the country to present at various national and international conferences, which has certainly given me a much more global awareness of all fields. As it relates to academics, my research has made my understanding of biology much more complete and much easier. Understanding practical uses of procedures and techniques is crucial in biology courses, and having already carried out those experiments, or related ones, I have first-hand knowledge puts me at a great advantage over students who have only read about them. I once heard that studying biology without doing research is like learning how to paint without using canvas, paint or a brush. Research has also helped me form connections with faculty members, which has given me the broad faculty support base that is necessary for any student who is applying to competitive graduate or professional schools or for prestigious scholarships. Finally, though conducting research, I have learned about the larger roles I can play in the field of medicine. Although I was initially only interested in a career in primary care medicine, my research has show me the value and enjoyment of relating biology to global health, health care policy and even foreign relations.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

Although I have had many memorable and exciting moments, my favorite moment was very early in my research. My professor and I had made a particular, and I set up a very simple experiment and collected the data to analyzed later with Dr. Gollapudi. A few days later, Dr. Gollapudi and I sat in front of the computer and found that what we had hypothesized seemed to be correct! It was a truly amazing moment, because it was my first scientific discovery! Another great experience was when my research was accepted to make oral presentation at the 25th International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants in Toronto, Canada. This international meeting is where scientists across the world gather to present the most cutting-edge research on Dioxin. I was the only undergraduate in attendance, and all of the scientists were very encouraging and kind. It was a wonderful experience that taught me that even though I was only an undergraduate student, my contributions were welcomed and encouraged.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

I hope to spend a year in India doing basic research on the immune system of infants who are suffering from infection. I am also interested in participating in the public health movement in India, and would even like to be involved in the media coverage of science, medicine and health policy, and how they relate to an ever-expanding global community. Following this, I plan to attend medical school.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

While "start early" is a comment that I often give to fellow students, I will add that you should start early, but also at a time that gives you the opportunity to do your best work. In your first quarter of research, take fewer academic units and spend a lot of time in the laboratory learning the techniques and forming relationships with other members of the lab. Once you have mastered the techniques, you will have limitless options to carry out experiments for an independent project. Ask your research professor for an independent project after you feel that you have enough background knowledge, and continue to demonstrate the interest and work habits that will earn trust and respect from your faculty mentor. Once you have data, begin presenting your evidence immediately. Get feedback from other experts in the field about your results and future experiments. Form contacts with these experts and stay in touch with them about your progress. Do not limit yourself to local undergraduate conferences. Submit your work for national and international meetings. A component of most of these meetings is enhancing education in the field, and they welcome student participation. Attend these meetings, and again, talk with the experts and form contacts. Finally, take pride in your research efforts and enjoy your experience.

Past Researchers of the Month
Dec. '06 Megan Trotter
Nov. '06 Allison Zemek
Oct. '06 Jeremy Roth
Sept. '06 Crystal Wang
Aug. '06 Michael Thompson
Jul. '06 Kimberly Balazs
Jun. '06 Joseph Boufadel
May '06 Vicky Zhou
Apr. '06 Jessica Morreale
Mar. '06 Talinn Toorian
Feb. '06 Vivek Mehta
Jan. '06 Pernille Hemmer
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