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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Four UC Davis students detail their experience conducting research on campus

From working at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain to the UC Davis Medical Center, students are engaged in STEM research across the board

    According to the 2021 University of California Accountability Framework, 34% of university-wide seniors reported assisting faculty in conducting research. Research is an integral part of UC Davis, and students have the opportunity to receive hands-on research experience.

    Since November 2020, Dua Haryanawalla, a third-year majoring in psychology, has been an undergraduate research assistant at the Mangun Laboratory for Neural Mechanisms of Attention, located in the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.  

    “I had experience before doing research,” Haryanawalla said. “But, it was a different kind of experience. It wasn’t one where I was working in the lab. I really wanted to gain that experience because it aligns with my major. I wanted to see if research was something I wanted to pursue going forward.” 

    Haryanawalla landed this position through a friend who connected her to a graduate student looking to recruit an undergraduate student position in their lab. 

    “My friend had already joined a position in the laboratory,” Haryanawalla said. “I was telling him how I wanted to do research, and I had reached out to professors [outside of UC Davis], and haven’t heard back from many. [I thought] maybe it would be better if [I reached out] within the university.” 

    Haryanawalla is analyzing data sets from recordings of the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the responses evoked by them, called event-related potentials (ERPs). 

    “MATLab is a programming tool that we use to analyze EEG and ERP trials, which is a type of data set we collect,” Haryanawalla said. “The focus of this research is to monitor attention span.” 

    Haryanawalla said that before coming into this position, she was familiar with Python, a programming language which she had learned through ECS 32A: “Introduction to Programming,” but she didn’t have much hands-on experience. However, she emphasized that she was ready to learn, and that’s what Haryanawalla has been doing with MATLab through this position ever since. 

    Fourth-year cognitive science major Shefali Bhagath is working six to nine hours a week as an undergraduate research assistant at the Memory and Development Lab, led by principal investigator Dr. Simona Ghetti, which is also housed in the Center for Mind and Brain. 

    One day, Bhagath stumbled across her research opportunity at the Memory and Development Lab when viewing a newsletter sent by the Department of Psychology via email. 

    “At the [Memory and Development Lab], we run a longitudinal study with children,” Bhagath said. “We bring them into our lab, play with them to get them adjusted and then we run our studies — which are a bunch of little games and tasks in a few rooms within our lab. I also do database input. We take all of their information from the surveys that we have the parents fill out, and we go ahead and put it into spreadsheets.” 

Bhagath is also simultaneously working at the UC Davis Medical Center in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. 

    “I am a premedical student. I wanted some more type of clinical research, since [my work at the Memory and Development Lab] isn’t clinical research,” Bhaghat said.  

    To find this opportunity, Bhaghat scrolled through job opportunities on Handshake. 

At the UC Davis Medical Center, Bhagath runs a variety of studies inside the operating room and inside the ICU units at the hospital. Bhagath said her success stems from foundational skills — like strong communication and willingness to do whatever is at hand — which she refined through her position as a dance coach in high school.

“You can pull these types of skills, from any type of extracurricular you’ve ever done in your life,” Bhagath said. “It doesn’t have to be just skills you think are only required for research. There are so many interpersonal skills that go into research because you are working with peers, graduate students, professors and doctors.”

Bhagath said that the skills that she’s gathered through these research positions propelled her to gain leadership positions in clubs like Women in Science Society at UC Davis.  

    Similar to Bhagath, third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Rebecca Chu wanted to find a research opportunity that would integrate patient interaction. 

    “I wasn’t really particular as to which department or which lab [I wanted to work in],” Chu said. “I applied to whatever interested me. I knew I didn’t want to just do data analysis. I wanted [my research] to involve patient interaction.” 

    Last spring quarter, Chu joined the UC Davis Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases as an undergraduate research assistant. 

    “One of the main studies that I am doing right now is related to COVID-19,” Chu said. “I help the study coordinator screen patients; for each study there is a requirement for what type of patient we can take [for clinical studies] and what type of patient we can’t take. We get to see their chart on the computer and go through the protocol.”   

    Now, Chu is able to comprehensively read patient charts and watch her research coordinator interact with the patients enrolled in the clinical study. 

    Third-year double major in French and neurobiology, physiology and behavior Margo Le is working in the Center of Immunology and Infectious Diseases as an undergraduate student researcher, under principal investigator Dr. Nicole Baumgarth.  

    “For me, I’ve always been more interested in the research side,” Le said. “I want to go toward the graduate/Ph.D. course after my Bachelors. At first, I just wanted to get a look at what research consisted of and have an idea of what I could be getting myself into to decide to go to academics. That’s why I looked at some of the research labs here.”

    Le said that since joining, she has learned techniques for working with in vivo mice and how to use enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). 

    “Dr. Baumgarth’s lab works on the different aspects of immunology, including [what would happen” if we take one aspect out, and how that would influence the immune response,” Le said. “The grad student that I am working under is working on the FCMR. She works with transgenic mice to see how it would affect its response to the influenza virus.”

At the beginning, Le was completing basic tasks like paperwork. Now, she is doing a part of Dr. Baumgarth’s project. 

    “She trusts me enough to do actual lab work by myself without her being there,” Le said. “It comes with time.”       

    Haryanawalla, Bhagath, Chu and Le all agree on one thing: taking a chance on research has enriched their academic experiences on the UC Davis campus. 

Written by: Aarya Gupta — science@theaggie.org  

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