What Undergraduate Research Can Do For You

Why should you become involved in undergraduate research?

As undergraduate students, we can forget the fact that most of our professors do not spend the majority of their time teaching undergraduate classes. A large research university like UC Davis uses a huge portion of its human resources and facilities to carry out “original research”. This involves professors and their research teams battling everyday to advance knowledge in their field by carrying out research in the various labs dotted around campus.

As an undergraduate, it’s wise to tap into this exciting world, in order to make the most of your educational experience. Working as an undergraduate assistant in a laboratory can expand your intellectual horizons and challenge you beyond any class coursework- it is like powerlifting for the intellect. You will learn how to read and analyze peer reviewed research articles. You will learn advanced technical skills that will supplement knowledge in upper division biology classes and open up career opportunities. For example, gaining lab skills can make you a much more competitive applicant for becoming a lab technician or gaining an internship at a biotechnology company right after graduation (e.g. Genentech). Additionally clinical research can provide you with patient contact and strengthen healthcare school applications.

Above all, it can be difficult to get to know your professors at a large research university like UC Davis. Therefore, sitting at a lab bench for 3 hours every Monday morning with your graduate student advisor or professor will offer you an unparalleled opportunity to get to know them. If you develop a genuine, professional relationship with your professor, they can guide you towards incredible opportunities, grants/ scholarships and provide perspectives on careers both inside and outside of academia. They are also in an excellent position to provide you with a detailed, supportive letter of recommendation for graduate school.

Although the rewards can be great, it is worth noting that research is challenging and requires a significant time commitment of 6-12 hours per week. As with any extracurricular activity, you should periodically assess whether research is something you truly enjoy, and if the benefits outweigh the costs for your particular situation.

How to become involved in undergraduate research

Ideally, you should become involved with research at end of your freshman year or the beginning of your sophomore year. This will give you 2-3 years to learn the skills necessary to make a genuine impact in your department. However, your junior year can also be an excellent time to become involved in a lab, as some professors prefer students with certain advanced science classes under their belt.

Here are the general steps required to become an undergraduate research assistant:

  1. First, make a list of fields that you are interested in (e.g. genetics, physiology, psychology, neurology). Contact and meet with an appropriate faculty advisor for overall advice on campus research opportunities by visiting: http://basc.ucdavis.edu/advising/faculty-advisers.html
  2. Visit lab websites. Google search UC Davis department websites and make a list of labs/ professors to contact. Paid and unpaid research assistant opportunities will also be advertised through the bismajors listserv and on Aggie Job Link. Undergraduate assistant positions are usually unpaid, but some can be paid or eventually develop into paid positions. You may also meet professors requiring lab assistants in BIS 005, a research course required for all BIS majors.
  3. When visiting the lab website, try to assess the environment to predict what sort of learning experience you will receive. For example, in a very large lab, you may not have opportunities to talk with the PI (main professor) or learn skills beyond basic lab maintenance work. Also, if the lab uses animal models, you should consider whether you would be comfortable handling or even euthanizing the given animal. If the lab is involved with clinical research, you should consider whether you would enjoy working with patients, as well as the ethical implications.
  4. Read 1 to 3 research articles written by the professor of your lab of interest. Send a professional and succinct email to the professor expressing your interest, mention something specific about their research that interests you and ask if there are any openings for research volunteers. Your professor may request a more formal interview and your resume, to assess your suitability for the lab. You should also use interviews to assess whether the professor or graduate mentor will provide a learning environment that will be useful to you.
  5. Do not be discouraged if there is no space for you in a particular lab. You may need to apply to 10-50 labs before you receive a positive response.
  6. During your first year of working on a research project, do not expect anything but go out of your way to be as helpful as possible. Get to work on time everyday and be prepared to perform basic tasks with enthusiasm. Once you have proven your reliability and gained some technical expertise, slowly increase your involvement by offering to take on more duties. As you are assigned important work, go the extra mile to complete these tasks to the highest standards possible. Keep an eye out for undergraduate summer internships or ask your graduate mentor or professor if they know of such opportunities. Approaching your work with positivity and diligence will maximize the benefits you will receive from any research experience.
  7. UC Davis provides annual opportunities to present undergraduate research at the Undergraduate Research Conference, as well as a variety of awards, which can be read about at: https://urc.ucdavis.edu/awards/index.html The Undergraduate Research Center also provides services to undergraduates including educational programs, seminars and workshops: https://urc.ucdavis.edu/students/services.html

Janis Kim
4th Year Biological Sciences Major
BASC Peer Adviser

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Resource Spotlight: Student Community Center

SCC1

The UC Davis campus has a vast variety of campus resources readily available to students. One such resource is the Student Community Center (SCC) which provides academic services and other diverse organizations that create an all-inclusive environment for our students. Located in the center of the main UCD campus, the SCC is home to organizations such as: the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center (LGBTQIARC), Student Recruitment and Retention Center (SRRC), Cross Cultural Center (CCC), McNair Scholars Program, Women’s Resources and Research Center (WRRC), AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, and Undergraduate Research Center (URC). The SCC also has a few meeting and study rooms available for reservations.

A little on what each of these centers is about:

LGBTQIA Resource Center– The LQBTQIA Resource Center is open to all students. One of the center’s main focuses is to provide students with resources in the areas of programming, advising, and education. There are many resources and programs available for student involvement as well as events throughout the year that anyone can attend. For example: LGBTQIARC hosts Wii Wednesdays and Crafternoons so stop by for some fun! The center is open Monday – Thursday, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM and Fridays 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM; drop by for questions or if you simply need a place to study.

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Student Recruitment and Retention Center- The SRCC is a student resource center that stands for educational equity. Some services include peer mentoring, academic support, transfer student support, leadership development, and more. The SRCC also has great opportunities for students to get involved whether through their programs, events, volunteer and internship programs, or jobs. For example, are you a transfer student? If so you may wish to attend the SRRC’s weekly Transfer Hour every Wednesday from 2-4pm in their SCC conference room.

lounge srrc

Cross Cultural Center- Interested in learning about people? How about cultures other than your own? If so, pay a visit to the CCC. Like all other centers the CCC has programs and volunteer and job opportunities for students to get involved. The CCC has a goal of creating a campus community in which all individuals share a harmonious environment free of sexism, racism, xenophobia, or any other form of oppression. One unique aspect of the CCC is the Culture Days that it puts together for communities within our campus. This is a time for students to express their culture to others and in turn learn about others’ culture as well.

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McNair Scholars Program- The McNair Scholar Program serves to encourage students in graduate programs from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue doctoral degrees. For more information visit the McNair Scholar Program website.

Women’s Resources and Research Center- The WRRC works to promote gender equality through intersectional feminist approaches. This center welcomes people of all genders and provides all with a variety of involvement opportunities ranging from leadership program positions to gender research. The WRRC also provides students with an extensive list of resources that are essential for any situation in need of advise or involving distress.  One unique aspect of the WRRC is their Joy Fergoda Library. Located in North Hall, the Joy Fergoda Library houses over 12,000 books and films promoting feminist research and scholarship at UC Davis; a Forum on Disabilities Collection is also available.

NorthHall wrrc
The WRRC extends to both North Hall and the SCC. Available at the SCC is the WRRC Community Office

AB540 and Undocumented Student Center-  This center seeks to help students reach their academic goals while helping students overcome any legal and financial obstacles. The goal of this center is to create a safe and welcoming environment in which resources like mentoring are available, and also academic guidance and financial opportunities.

Undergraduate Research Center- Looking for research experience but do not know where to begin? Visiting the Undergraduate Research Center may be a good start. The URC works to help students develop skills necessary for research positions. It also provides students with resources needed to find research opportunities. Every year, the URC hosts an annual Undergraduate Research Conference where students are given the opportunity for present their research. For more information about programs, their Genius 5K run/walk, conference, and awards visit the Undergraduate Research Center website or visit the center on the second floor of the SCC.

With its bright colors, murals, and lively environment, the SCC is an inviting place for students. Even studying becomes appealing with the comfortable chairs in the study lounge. The SCC is a convenient center which hosts what seems to be a plethora of resources located all in one area. Connected to the SCC there is also the CoHo South Cafe. Coffee + Resources + Study Area = Happy Students. Pay the SCC a visit; it is a great campus resource!

SCC study loungeAlejandra Villa
Academic Peer Adviser
3rd Year Genetics and Genomics Major

Finding a Balance

It’s not uncommon for me to have a date with Peter J. Shields that lasts five hours. Sometimes during midterm weeks, we go on many dates. Do we get tired of each other? Of course we do. However, our relationship is important. Without the countless hours I have spent at our campus library, my knowledge and my grades would be suffering.

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To ensure that I maintain a strong relationship with Peter J. Shields, I have learned to balance my schoolwork with extracurricular activities. It is important to avoid overwhelming yourself in schoolwork to the point that you no longer find your courses rewarding. Instead, find opportunities to get involved in clubs and activities that give your eyes a break from studying.

When I’m not at Peter J. Shields, I’m at the ARC playing intramural sports or listening to guest speakers at Pre-Dental Society meetings. There are hundreds of extracurricular activities at UC Davis. I’ve decided to highlight a few opportunities that may interest students in the College of Biological Sciences (CBS).

1. Interested in a volunteering abroad? There are multiple groups on campus dedicated to improving health in impoverished countries. I recently traveled to Liberia, Costa Rica with Spreading Smiles, a student-run organization unique to UC Davis. In Liberia, we traveled to churches, promoting oral hygiene techniques and providing non-invasive dental cleanings. Through out the school year, we fundraise through car washes and bake sales. Check out other awesome volunteering groups such as Project Rishi, Global Medical Brigades, and Global Dental Brigades.

2. Interested in getting to know your classmates outside of lecture? Join a club related to your major! It’s awesome surrounding yourself with people of similar interests and career paths. Our very own peer adviser, Wilson, is a member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) at UC Davis. ASM organizes guest speakers, field trips, and other group activities relevant to microbiology. There are other major clubs for CBS students such as the EXB Club, NPB Club, Bio Boosters (a great opportunity for biology majors), Genetics Club, and MCB Club.

3. Interested in applying your scientific knowledge to broader societal issues? Join the Environmental Science and Policy Club at UC Davis. This club gives CBS students the opportunity to diversify their knowledge through exposing members to topics related to social sciences and politics. If environmental issues are not your strongest interest, browse other clubs like Student Reproductive Coalition, Universities Allied for Essential Medicine, and Team HBV.

4. Interested in applying your scientific knowledge to something revolutionary? Explore the numerous undergraduate research opportunities available at UC Davis. Research gives students hands-on scientific experience and helps students develop relationships with renowned faculty members.

Becoming involved in extracurricular activities helps you meet new people, diversify your knowledge and experiences, and strengthen your resume. While I’ve only highlighted a select few of the extracurricular activities available at UC Davis, check out the Center for Student Involvement webpage to find an activity that fits you!

Jennifer Hofmann

Senior

Exercise Biology

BASC Peer Adviser

Why Major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology?

DNA Helicase Activity
Fig.1 DNA Helicase Activity

“I want to be a doctor!” is one of the most common reasons students give when choosing our Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) major. Medical schools don’t actually put much weight on your major of choice, however, they do emphasize performing well in classes that are prerequisites for their programs. These programs also look at how well you are doing in whatever major you decide. So choose a major that interests you! Also, if you do choose BMB don’t limit yourself to medicine. BMB is an empowering major that will open doors to many other careers.

Imagine a single hair; The diameter of that hair is about 75,000 nanometers or about the size of the average amino acid. Why are amino acids important and why should we care about them? Amino acids are the key parts of “active sites” of enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that speed up the fundamental reactions of our body so that we can function. If you are interested in how these enzymes power our metabolism to give us energy, then this is the major for you.

Not only will you gain a great deal of knowledge about protein structure and function, but you will also acquire a deep understanding of biochemical techniques through: Polymerase Chain Reaction, Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis, Isoelectric Focusing Gels, and Affinity Columns. These techniques, along with the knowledge of protein structure and function in metabolism, will help you gain the initial experience and skills you need to become a better applicant for graduate programs, professional programs or even a Junior Specialist.

Not satisfied with an M.D., D.O., PhD, or Masters in Biochemistry? Want a job right out of college? This major is still a great choice. The Biotechnology industry is a growing field and big industry companies are looking for Junior Specialists with a bachelors degree in Biochemistry. You can work in a lab and be on the frontier of the health sciences field as you work on the next big therapeutic drug!

By integrating the fields of Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics, Biochemistry has helped several career fields grow and is continuing to provide a wealth of knowledge to those that look for it. So why major in BMB? The opportunities are endless.

Mo Siddiqui
Peer Adviser, Biology Academic Success Center
B.S. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Class of 2015

 
Additional Links

Careers in Biochemistry
http://www.asbmb.org/Page.aspx?id=266
On Campus Research in Biochemistry
http://www.mcb.ucdavis.edu/dept/bookmarks.cfm?CategoryID=1961855059

Animation taken from:
Foadey, W.. N.p.. Web. 26 Feb 2014. <http://www.cs.stedwards.edu/chem/Chemistry/CHEM43/CHEM43/Projects04/HELICASE/FUNCTION.html&gt;.

Why Major in Microbiology?

We fear what we cannot see. Pathogens, epidemics, and food outbreaks are just some of the things that the general population will see on a news channel. Time and time again, Hollywood capitalized on these topics by developing big-screen productions like Contagion (2011) or 28 Days Later (2002). It’s obvious that the microbial world is fascinating in some way to most of us and this is mostly due to the fact that much of our well-being is interconnected with these microscopic organisms.

To explore the relevance of microbiology in everyday life, think about the last time you enjoyed cheese on a sandwich or a slice of pizza. The process of producing the cheese starts with a lactic acid bacterial culture that is added to the milk. Once that lactic acid culture starts working, the milk sugar, lactose is converted to lactic acid. An enzyme preparation is added which causes the milk protein to coagulate and solidify.  All the while, the bacteria continues to produce acid from the lactose in the milk. Secondary microflora ripen the cheese and will determine the final texture and aroma of each type of cheese. Even if you are vegan or ovo-vegetarian (like me) and cheese is not a part of your diet, you are not exempt from interactions with microorganisms in regards to eating. Surely you have had a cavity or two. If not, I congratulate you. On average, 200-300 species of bacteria are colonized in your oral cavity. A few of those species participates in dental decay by adhering to tooth surfaces in bacterial matrices known as dental plaque. These communities produce acid that irreversibly makes tooth mineral soluble, which is usually replenished by saliva between meals. However, when fermentable foods are eaten frequently, the low pH in the plaque is sustained and a net loss of mineral from the tooth occurs, ultimately resulting in a trip to the dentist’s office.

At its core, the study of microorganisms is an integration of many other subjects: evolution, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics. This is reflected through your first two or three years of coursework at UC Davis. However, the peak of your journey as a microbiology major is going to be involved with unique lab work including: a) classical enrichments for the isolation of metabolically diverse microbes b) modern molecular methods for the identification of isolates c) cultivation independent analysis of microbial communities from local environmental samples. The learning experience from this area of discipline is designed for students who want to keep up-to-date with current events and those who are ready to take on a challenge. Thus, the preparation that Microbiology students receives for professional schools, graduate programs, and research positions in government/private labs is unrivaled in comparison to other majors.

Want to know how nerve impulses are affected by deadly flesh-eating viruses? Does microscopic chemical warfare sound cool? Interested in figuring how vaccines work with your immune system? Microbiology has the answers for you!

Wilson Ng
Peer Adviser, Biology Academic Success Center
B.S. Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Class of 2015