Searching for Stories in Unconventional Places and in Unconventional Ways

By Shaharia Ferdus.

Ever since I was a child, I loved stories. My mother would read me countless bedtime tales when I was young, and after I immigrated to America from Bangladesh, I often found myself buried in a book because it was easier to get lost in fantasy worlds with fictional characters than to confront the foreignness of my new home or the faces around me. Now as an adult, I am proud that I am at least a little braver than I once was. Years of forcing myself to reach out and get involved in my community and later on campus have made talking to people less difficult than it once was. Unfortunately, the busier schedule now also means that the natural bookworm in me has little time to get lost in a traditional book like before. So, I’ve had to be creative and search for stories in unconventional places and in unconventional ways.

Not everyone is meant to be a writer, that much is true. But in my time as a nurse aide (albeit only eight months), I have come to find that some of the best stories are told by ordinary people. As I work in a rehabilitation clinic, it is always exciting to watch patients who previously could not move, walk on their own again in a matter of weeks, thanks to therapy, a supportive network, and their own determination and effort. Hearing from some patients as they work to regain their capabilities is always inspiring, and I strive to be just as hardworking and optimistic as they are. But for other patients, there is no recovery, no return path to normalcy.

For these individuals, I cannot do much but be present and listen. It is actually one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and a privilege I hold dear because I am aware of how difficult it is to be vulnerable around strangers. But I have also come to appreciate how comforting it can be for them to open up to someone. The few minutes I take to ask patients about their day and listen to them talk about their families, their goals, their lives beyond the hospital, is just me being friendly. Not everyone cares, but for some, my efforts make enough of an impression that they recall our exchanges fondly whenever I come to see them. So in between tasks, I try to make time to talk to my patients. Whatever their prognosis is, I am thankful to be there for them. Even if I cannot do much to improve their overall condition, I can at least listen, and that itself can make all the difference to a patient’s outlook on their recovery.

Here at UConn, I deal with a different kind of story – that is, the story being told, and now actively being written by me, through research. Switching out a pen for a micropipette and a library for the NCBI database, I coauthor a mystery in which I am a detective. The mystery: how does the gut microbiome affect liver health? It’s a question that has come to dominate my research experience ever since I joined the Blesso lab in the Nutritional Sciences Department sophomore year, and one I am not sure I have the answer to as I prepare my honors thesis, nor one I expect to know the answer to even after graduation in May. It’s a frustrating situation getting insignificant results and not knowing the answer; I’m not used to not getting answers as a student. But as my PI reminds me time and again, this is an open-ended tale. As more evidence is compiled by many scientists across the world over time, the story will build, but the mystery itself may never be fully resolved. I still cross my fingers hoping that sooner or later, I will encounter an exciting detail that furthers the field tremendously. But for now, I’ve learned to be proud of my involvement (however small) in the development of this global story of human curiosity and intellect.

Being an ambitious full-time student leaves little time for reading books that are not the required course readings. Even if I found time to travel to the library, most are closed now anyways, thanks to the pandemic. But that has not stopped me from seeking out stories and feeding my inner bookworm. Whether happy or sad, complete or incomplete, I want to hear them all. But more importantly, I want to be a part of building those stories – stories of human ambition and achievement. The future is unpredictable and unwritten, but I am my own author, and this story will have a happy ending. “The End” (for now…)

Maintaining a Global Perspective

By Alma Jeri-Wahrhaftig

I come from an incredibly global family. My maternal grandmother was born in England and raised in Rhodesia (now modern-day Zimbabwe), and my father immigrated to the United States from Peru. Over time, my family has slowly expanded to five of the seven continents, and as a result, I have had the unique experience of learning and incorporating lessons from various cultures around the world. My experiences and interactions with my family have shaped me into the person I have become today and continue to influence me. It is through my family, friends, and experiences that I have recognized the importance and benefit of maintaining a global perspective in everyday life.

My grandmother has lived in three different continents throughout her lifetime, each different from the first. She and her family moved from England to Rhodesia at the age of eight and then later moved to the United States as an adult. Her stories of adventure and travels circulate throughout my family, and have created a desire in me to travel and have similar experiences. My grandmother and her stories have helped me gain a better understanding of the differences and unique aspects that make up our world.

My father came to the United States when he met my mother and started a completely new life. He learned a new language, began a new career, and raised a family. My father instilled in me a strong work ethic, and helped me become a decisive problem solver. Through my father, I learned that with an open mind and creative thought, every problem could have a solution.

While my family is composed of a variety of cultures, my parents ensured that my brother and I would be able to participate in our cultures and have a strong understanding of them. A mix of Peruvian, English, Zimbabwean, and American objects, dishes, music, and more filled the inside of my home. Outside of my home, my family also worked to ensure that my brother and I would be able to travel to these same countries to visit family and appreciate our background. This upbringing has taught me to remain open and accepting to new people, cultures, and ideas. It has taught me that being open to new experiences can only bring adventure, and enhance an individual knowledge of the world. Most of all, it has helped me to embrace my own identity and filled me with a motivation to learn about the various other cultures of the world.

Over time and travels, I have discovered how a global perspective allows for new ideas and innovation to be brought about through diverse thought: how it allows for an openness and acceptance to new ideas, provides a better understanding of the globe, and creates a motivation to learn more about the world around. Of course education abroad is a great opportunity to experience this wider view, but a global perspective does not have to be brought about just by travel or family background, it can be achieved through your immediate surroundings.

At UConn, we have the opportunity to enroll in a large variety of classes and participate in different organizations that can help further our knowledge of the world. Different opportunities include the courses we enroll in, such as anthropology, women and gender studies, or language study. We can participate in various organizations and communities, such as the global house learning community, the cultural centers available at the Student Union, different clubs, or study abroad. We can even gain this view by the shows we watch, the music we listen to, and the books we read. It is simply how we view and learn from the world and the experiences with which we surround ourselves that can help us better understand the world and those who live in it.

A global perspective does not need to come from a grand life experience and it may not always provide the same set of benefits. However, we can only stand to gain from trying to learn more about others. While some may apply this perspective in their future career, a global perspective can help with daily interactions with others as well. It can make people better listeners, more accepting, more understanding, and help strengthen our connections to another across the planet and here at home.

Don’t Underestimate the Powers of Pets

By Megan Davenport

Let’s be honest, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted how we go about our everyday lives. It has influenced everyone in different ways and poses one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century: how to be social from afar. For anyone who knows me or has met me, they know that I am a ball of social energy and thrive on human contact to maintain that outgoing personality. I’m not gonna lie, I have struggled with finding creative ways to connect with others during this pandemic. I’ve tried everything from texting to social media to face-timing and zoom calls — they were all great ways to socialize safely, but still left me feeling empty and longing for physical contact. That’s when I realized how important my physical connection with animals was going to be for my mental health and wellbeing.

This fall semester, I was working in the UConn dairy heifer barn to help with Little I training, and just being down at the barn physically working with calves elevated my mood and restored that social energy I would usually receive from human contact. I’ve always considered the barn to be my home away from home, and that has never proven more true than it has in 2020. Even on my worst days, when physically isolated from others, the calves I worked with made my entire day go from dreary and hopeless to exciting and cheerful. I always knew that being around animals made me feel better, so this was all I needed to maintain a positive and hopeful attitude towards life.

Once I came home from school for winter break, I would go out to my barn and just sit in the hay with one of my calf’s heads in my lap. It made every worry I had go away. Similarly, snuggling up by the fire with a warm blanket and a fluffy cat to pet made me feel at peace. There are so many people who have suffered so much during this pandemic, and although I am grateful that I have not lost any close friends or family to Covid, I know many friends who have lost loved ones or have suffered in other ways. Whether you lost your job, are struggling to make financial ends meet, feel overwhelmed with virtual classes, and/or miss seeing your friends and family dearly, everyone is looking for an outlet for the stress, grief, and hopelessness associated with this global health crisis. As more and more businesses, gyms, schools, libraries, and more close, the world is becoming crippled mentally and socially. It is vital for each and every one of us to find what works best for us to help us combat these dark times.

I am grateful that I have various pets to spend quality time with. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have cows in their backyard or even have a pet cat or dog, but for those who don’t, I’d implore them to buy some plants. Yes, you heard me, plants. Even if they’re small succulents from the store, being surrounded by any source of life, even plants, can make the greatest difference in mental health and can significantly improve your mood. This pandemic has been one of the biggest tests of willpower and resilience for humankind in a while (or at least in my lifetime so far) and is going to continuously knock us down when we least expect it. It is up to each and every one of us to muster the strength to keep getting back up and fighting back harder. Whether it’s spending time with your pets, going on a hike, or even watering that little cactus on your bedside table, give yourself a reason to persevere through this monumental obstacle. Do not let Covid win. We are all in this together, even when physically apart. So go buy that succulent, pet your dog, or go on a walk around the neighborhood. Nothing can stop you from practicing the self-care that you deserve… not even a global pandemic.

Don’t Be Scared To Fail, Embrace It ‘Til You Succeed

By Matthew Barrios

As far back as I can remember, all I knew was that I had to push myself always to be the best. Not for myself, nor my friends or loved ones, but for my parents. Even though it may sound like a cliche, my parents have always been my heroes. They were immigrants who came to this country with nothing more than a 6th-grade education, an identification that only worked in Guatemala, and fifty dollars in their pockets. Since then, both of them were able to groom four children: my older sister (who is now a fully registered nurse in one of the best hospitals in New England), my 17-year-old little brother (who is already in line to get scouted by colleges), and my 12-year-old sister (who is becoming a prodigy in gymnastics). Lastly, there is me: the first child to ever move away from home, live at a major state university, and gain a spot in one of their most competitive majors on record. All of us wish to make our parents and loved ones proud, but one thing I learned while attending UConn was that I was scared to fail.

Becoming a part of the class of 2022 at UConn Storrs was a whole game changer. High school was too comfortable for me. UConn challenged me to jump out of my comfort zone. It was a bumpy transition into the common college student life, but eventually I got the hang of it. Still. I had this lingering fear of failing. Every semester got more challenging. Every class got more difficult and kept asking more of me bit by bit. Every night kept getting shorter, I started to run out of time to study and began to miss assignments. Freshman year, I wasn’t that scared because I had enough time on my hands that I could take multiple jobs and still get outstanding grades in my classes, yet it was always that fear of failing that kept crawling up my neck and taking over my body slowly, like a virus. One thing that I learned from attending UConn for the past two and a half years is that you shouldn’t be scared to fail.

Failure teaches you where your errors happened and how you can become better next time. Failure shouldn’t be our worst enemy; rather, it should be our teacher. Our teacher tells us to always pick ourselves up and prepare to tackle the problems ahead. We always mistake failure for the end, when in reality it’s giving up that takes away our second chance. We may fall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re down for the count. There is still time to get back up and reach the finish line or score that goal or knock out that last study session to ace the final.

The most important lesson that I have learned, and am still currently learning, is that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to get an unpleasant grade because, at the end of the day, it fuels your motivation for a second chance to correct it. A soccer player doesn’t get better by just practicing one free-kick; they get better by constantly missing until they finally find the right angle to make a goal 10/10 times. Because of failure, I am now within my third year of the four-year Landscape Architecture program with a promising internship while holding employment as a student tour guide at the Lodewick Visitor Center on campus as well as a Club Sports manager for one of my favorite sports, soccer. The university offers so many opportunities to discover who you wish to be or possibly become. I found myself more comfortable at one of the five culture centers on campus, the Puerto Rican Latin American Culture Center. There I became part of a community that later became my home away from home along with some other groups that gave me memories that I will never forget.

Widening Perspective

By Zachary Duda

As a child I was always taught that no one could be the best at everything, no individual had all the answers, and ultimately it takes many people to accomplish a significant task. Growing up with this mindset gave me an interest in the stories other people had, the experiences I lacked and how I could use the perspective of others to form opinions rooted in something other than my own personal path.

Here at UConn, the value of perspective is a key component to working with others. In a community that brings people together from all walks of life, our success depends on our ability to welcome differences and weave them into one complex communal story.

For me the story began when I first arrived at the Waterbury Regional Campus, where I spent the first year of my UConn undergraduate career. At the time, I was milking cows morning and afternoon at a dairy farm a half an hour away. Often, I would arrive on campus smelling less than ideal for class and definitely had a fair share of comments thrown my way. Many of my fellow students were from urban and suburban minority communities and virtually none of them had ever seen a farm, let alone worked on one. This led me to realize how different thirty minutes of travel by car can be in our small state. To put it bluntly, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

As the days and weeks passed in my first semester, I began to make new acquaintances at the campus, fellow peers with different backgrounds and skin tones, who, just like me, were trying to find their piece in the larger puzzle. I would talk to them about the farm, cows, and corn they would often say things like, “I didn’t know we have farms in Connecticut,” or “I can’t believe people still milk cows.” All of this was fun really; what I learned from them about living in an urban area, not seeing open fields or traveling by car to every destination and what they learned from me about a more rural life broadened the way we looked at our thirty minute separation. However, out of my entire year spent at Waterbury, one experience made me realize how we can never take our own perspective for granted. As a white, rural, male freshman, I had made several friends with students from races, genders, religions, and economic backgrounds different from my own.

One day when I arrived at school, still wearing my chore clothes from that morning and reeking of cows, I saw my friend Woody with a group of his friends and decided to walk over and greet him. Naturally, as we always did, we shook hands and talked for a few minutes and I went on my way. Later that day, in the class we had together, Woody sat down next to me and said that his friends, who were all African American, like he was, had been surprised that we were acquainted. He explained to me that his friends had thought I was racist due to the way I dressed and the job I had. That’s why up until that point they never talked to me. Our different lives, locations, and appearances made them believe I was something I was not. Just as I could draw up assumed conclusions about them before having ever talked to them. I asked myself then how many times were they thought to be something they were not? How often are we all judged on first glance, without any connection made?

This single event made me realize how valuable perspective is in every single case where two differing stories meet. After that experience, I realized that the most important tool I had to make friends with anyone was perspective. When used properly, a wider perspective facilitated by the stories we share helps us realize that people share a common humanity even when their lives may appear very different. It is human nature to judge–we all do it; however, we cannot let our first-hand judgements become our lasting impressions. In a community like UConn, we can either see the differences around us as isolating who we are, or we can embrace the diversity and connections we have to expand our view on the world around us.

Venturing Out of the Comfort Zone

by Kimberly Alvarez

Since I was 15 years old, the jobs I usually obtained were in the agricultural field, whether it be at the Stew Leonard’s petting zoo, ShopRite’s floral department or at a dog boarding facility. Being so familiar with these types of jobs, I was always hesitant to work in any other field. While I know for a fact that an agricultural career is in my future, I decided towards the end of April 2020 to venture into social work.

I believe that stepping out of my comfort zone every once in a while can prepare me for that unpredictable future, so I took on a job working at my city’s emergency homeless shelter. As the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on everyone’s lives, many seemed to forget about the neglected edges in each community, like the homeless. Key public locations, such as libraries, public restrooms and food banks closed down. These prime locations were a necessity for many individuals. Luckily, the State of Connecticut opened an emergency shelter housing 50+ residents, and I was able to get a position there. Before working at the shelter, I was never aware of how many individuals were affected by homelessness. Stepping out of my comfort zone has benefited me with this knowledge and allowed me to offer support to my community. 

Going into the shelter I had no idea what to expect regarding the precautionary measures for COVID-19. There are rules that must be followed by every resident: always wear your mask; apply hand sanitizer whenever you enter the building; keep a 6ft distance from anyone at the shelter. Monthly testing is required for all staff members/residents and both day/night temperature checks are mandatory. Adhering to these rules has been successful and makes the environment safer in my eyes. On a daily basis, breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided to the residents. There are also caseworkers who help them with rapid housing or with job searches. Shelters tend to be all about stabilizing those in need, as they overcome the obstacles in their way and find a stable path. This is when housing opportunities are brought up and jobs are encouraged. Unfortunately, homeless individuals can lack many things such as affordable housing options, a genuine support system and many tend to struggle with addiction. The goal is to provide guidance and not be seen as an authoritative figure.

Raising awareness for the homeless is so important for every community. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with such amazing people and listen to them when they need a shoulder to lean on. I recommend adding new dimensions to your life, whether it be once a week, once a month or once a year. Stepping out of your comfort zone may lead you to discover a whole new passion. Agriculture will always be my forte; however, being there for any individual in need is key to my lifestyle now. Eventually these small changes you make in your life accumulate and create a positive outcome as the time goes by.

Environmental Health and Justice for Black & Minority Groups

By Yvette Oppong

When I first came to UConn as a freshman in 2017, I did not major in environmental studies. I had decided on being a biology major on a pre-med track. I had always cared about the environment ever since I learned about it in my AP Environmental Science class; that is where my passion for the environment grew and was nurtured. I was hesitant to be an environmental studies major because I did not know if you could be on a pre-med track and not be a STEM major. I had always wanted to combine my passion for the environment with my career, but I didn’t think it could happen because of how common it was to separate environmental issues from human health and social issues.

It was not until I did a summer research program with the UConn Health Health Disparities Clinical Summer Research Fellowship Program where I learned about the health disparities occurring in Hartford, a city I have lived so close to for so long.  This program opened my eyes to the importance of health disparities and why there needs to be more people of color in the health and medical field. In the beginning, it was overwhelming to be learning about how, for example, children of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, are less likely to be diagnosed with autism. It took a while for this to soak in because I was scared of what this meant for people of color: no matter how wealthy one may be, they can never immunize themselves from health disparities. 

Similar to how there needs to be more black people and people of color in the medical field, I realized the same also needs to occur in the environmental arena. When learning about the health disparities occurring in Hartford and in other areas, I realized it all connected somehow to environmental injustice, environmental racism, and environmental inequality. People suffering from health disparities are low-income residents and these residents also are more likely to suffer from health problems due to their proximity to Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) and food deserts. All of these factors are related to environmental racism and create a cyclical cycle of poverty that continues to keep low-income black and minority residents trapped. People who live in these communities have no power or say in what is built around them, so instead of having grocery stores, healthier food, and green spaces, they get fast food restaurants, corner stores, and pollution-causing facilities, making them suffer physically, emotionally, and mentally. 

Being an environmental studies major has helped me realize that I do want to do more as a doctor than see my patients for 15 minutes and treat a symptom of a larger problem. I want to be able to help my patients outside of the doctor’s office, in their community. I want to be able to make long-lasting change for residents and that begins with unpacking the issue of environmental injustice, environmental racism, and environmental inequity. Being an environmental studies major has allowed me to be able to plan how I will be able to accomplish this goal of mine because unpacking all the environmental injustices is very overwhelming and complex, but this major allows one to think from multiple perspectives, including an intersectionality perspective, which is important in being able to not only solve the environmental injustices, but also the threat of climate change. The only way we will be able to start fixing the issue of climate change is when we fix the environmental injustices. 

Too often when an advancement is made toward the development or convenience of human society, it only improves the lives of certain people and makes the lives of others increasingly worse. The injustice is ignored because those who benefit from the advancement or convenience do not experience any form of pollution or climate change. This perpetuates a cycle of people continuing to live unsustainable lifestyles with little concern for the long-term or larger impacts of climate change. Ironically, indigenous people, who do know how to make the environment livable for generations to come and are well-versed in a sustainable lifestyle, suffer the most from the pollution, excess waste, and climate change, while top polluters are able to protect themselves from the immediacy of climate change with power and money. The voices and perspectives of indigenous people are neglected, ignored, mistreated, and silenced. This is environmental racism. If people were to treat others equally and equitable, there would be consideration and fair treatment of how the earth’s resources are managed. Until this can happen, we will continue to lack the necessary tools needed to solve our climate change crisis. Being an environmental studies major has helped me realize this, and I am so grateful for being able to gain this knowledge and perspective before graduating from college. 

Seize the Opportunity

By Matt Anzivino

As a transfer student coming into UConn, I thought I had the next two years of my life all figured out. Because I transferred from a community college in New Hampshire, I didn’t know what UConn’s large school atmosphere was going to be like. Let me start off by saying this: deciding to attend UConn has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.  With aspirations of running my own veterinary hospital in the future, I knew UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources was the only college for me and animal science was the only major. Little did I know that my idealistic future and plan of study was going to change in the matter of months.

Matt and Claire

From placing third in “Little I” with my sheep Claire, to getting involved with lots of clubs and activities on campus, I felt happy with how my fall semester started off. About halfway through the semester, however, the workload really picked up. I felt a step behind everyone and didn’t know why the drive for my future was no longer there. It wasn’t until my evening biology lab that everything unfolded for me. My body completely shut down, and I fell unconscious for about two minutes. According to the ambulance EMTs, I couldn’t even remember my name en route to the hospital. I woke up in the hospital bed sweating from head to toe, just trying to wrap my brain around what happened to me.

All my thoughts and doubts about my first semester at UConn came to me that night in the emergency room. All the times I walked back to my dorm at one in the morning because I chose procrastination over productivity, all the meals I skipped to cram work, all the 8 am lectures that I didn’t attend—they all played a role in why my body decided to react the way that it did. College students shouldn’t have to experience what I went through. Everything I learned and changed from that day on wouldn’t have been possible without the doctors who made sure I was okay, as well as all the advocates who helped me adjust by changing my curriculum.

Weeks after the incident, I realized that I was pushing myself to do something that I didn’t truly want. I’ve loved animals my whole life and am passionate about them, but a part of me was yearning for a different future with animals. As a student always looking for the next best option, I wanted to venture into a different major. This time around one major and concentration stood out more than anything else: Natural Resources with a concentration in Fisheries and Wildlife. Now, as a natural resources major, I couldn’t be happier with my schedule. The goals I have in mind for my future is much stronger because I’m not a step behind; rather, I am a step ahead thanks to UConn’s prestige. Just three days after my seizure, I went to the rec center to play basketball. I took the opportunity to play because it’s easy to take for granted how much we work each day; just enjoying the moment put into perspective why I started playing in the first place.

Whether you’re transferring into UConn, or starting out as freshman, be open to new ideas, new people, even a new environment. Take time to really form meaningful relationships, especially with teachers, because more often than not they’re going to be your key to the next step in your life. Don’t forget the simple things like getting enough sleep, managing your time, having a concrete plan for each day, and asking for help when you need it.

I wanted to share this part of my life because it’s important to know yourself and why you wanted to be a part of Husky Nation in the first place. I encourage anyone who’s reading this to ask truly why you’re pursuing what you’re pursuing, and to remember always the people who helped you get there. I’m grateful to be at UConn, because what turned out to be a scary end to my fall semester last year, has turned out to be the reason I want to conserve our land and save endangered animals.  Whether it be on the ocean, in the forests, or locally, I know that I’ll be right where I need to be because events like this have shaped me.






























Experimenting with Undergraduate Research

by Olivia Corvino

I began my undergraduate career at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and it seemed that from day one I was told of the importance of joining a research lab. The advice I received sounded daunting. I was told to look up the research labs in my major and see if any of the descriptions match my interests, but as a freshman in college I did not yet know my interests.

I began with the professors who were right in front of me. They were an amazing resource not only for the research that they are doing in their labs, but they were also aware of the types of research that other professors were engaged in. I started the conversations by asking if they were taking undergraduate students to work in their labs. I would then ask them to explain what their research was like and if I would be able to shadow a member of the lab for a day. I got a good understanding of the overarching topic that the lab was researching, but was not always told what my responsibilities would be once I became a member. So, before shadowing I would prepare a list of questions to ask the student, including: “What would a typical day in the lab look like for me if I were to join this lab?” This gave me a better idea of what I would be doing each day and if it fit my interests and skillset. After this, I signed up for an independent study for the fall of my sophomore year.

In the meantime, I got an email from my department head at URI about a summer research opportunity run by the UConn Department of Nutritional Science and funded by the USDA called Bridging the Gap. I applied and was accepted, and spent the summer after my freshman year learning how to write a literature review, while many other members of the program got to be in labs with more hands-on work. It wasn’t until two years later that I realized how valuable learning that how to do a lit. review would be!

Returning to URI in my sophomore year, I joined a community-based nutrition lab. There, I met with a weekly focus group for people who had acquired neurological impairments, whether they were from a stroke, car accidents, Parkinson’s disease, etc. I delivered nutrition education to them through fun and interactive games and by providing a healthy snack. I would then draw their blood to measure their plasma lipids. As much as I loved participating in this weekly group, I knew that community nutrition was not what I was passionate about, and after my second semester in that lab I began looking elsewhere.

Over the next summer, I went home to the New Haven area and decided to see what local research opportunities I could find. I went online and looked up research labs at Yale University and sent out emails with my resume to the principal investigator (PI) of lab that captured my growing interests. After sending about ten emails, I finally received a “yes” reply! I spent that summer in a food science-based nutrition lab working with food, people, blood samples, and Excel, and learned to screen patients for research studies. Being in a food science lab only confirmed that community nutrition was not for me — I wanted something more hands on. However, food science didn’t completely fit either, so I continued looking.

Having decided by this time to transfer to UConn, I began emailing research labs at UConn during the summer, hoping to join one in the fall semester. Unfortunately, every PI had a full lab. Initially, I found having to take a break from research upsetting, but the right research experience is sometimes a matter of timing. That fall, I found a PI who would be my professor the following semester who had an opening in his lab. We met and I asked my role in the lab and he ensured me that I would be putting in minimal time and that undergraduate students do not do very much hands on work. This was not ideal, but I felt that any exposure was better than no exposure. Soon after meeting with that PI, Dr. Ji-Young Lee gave a guest lecture in one of my classes, and at the end of her presentation she mentioned that she was looking for undergraduate students for her bench-based research lab for the first time in years. Since I was still looking for a lab, I approached her at the end of her lecture to tell her that I was interested, and after meeting to go over what her lab entailed, I had to make a decision. I asked the opinions of peers, professors and advisors whether I should enroll in a labor-relaxed lab where I would still expand my knowledge or join a lab with a reputation of being intense. After some deliberation, I enrolled in an independent study with the more demanding lab for the following spring.

Dr. Lee’s lab surpassed my expectations for what being an undergraduate student in a research lab could mean, and I am happy to still be there today. Every day I am doing hands-on experiments, culturing my own cell line and performing real-time PCRs (Polymerase chain reactions). I have worked my way through six, nine and now twelve hours a week in the lab and even have my own lab bench and set of equipment. Since I was able to experience other forms of research, I can be confident in my love for this lab and have now made the decision to stay in this lab for a master’s degree.

If I were able to give advice to anyone currently looking to get involved in research, I would say, don’t worry about choosing the wrong lab! You never know until you try. Professors are very understanding and empathetic that you are looking for your best match. I was always uncomfortable telling my PIs that I was leaving their lab, especially future professors of mine, and each time I was met with encouragement and compassion. There is no wrong lab to spend time in because every research lab that you join gives you a new set of skills and a better understanding of the field as a whole. I have been a member of four research labs in my undergraduate career and it has not only expanded my breadth of knowledge, but also given me insight into my goals for the future.

My Internship

By Victoria Shuster

My internship was at Our Companions Animal Rescue and Sanctuary located in Ashford, CT, about twenty minutes from campus. I have always known that I wanted to work with animals, and when this opportunity came up, I knew I had to do it. While some students have to actively hunt down a place to intern (see From Puppies to Skinks: How Internships Shaped My Career Path), my process for getting this internship was pretty straightforward.  After receiving an email from the Animal Science Department, which forwards relevant opportunities to their majors, I contacted the owner of the rescue stating my interest. I was invited to fill out an application and schedule an interview. That day, I met with Lindsey, the volunteer and intern coordinator, took a tour of the facility, and landed the internship! Then I met with Dr. Milvae, one of the faculty members who coordinates internship credits in Animal Science, and set up my requirements so that I could receive college credit. Here’s my advice when it comes to finding and applying for an internship:

  1. Remember that transportation is key. Don’t let it discourage you, but if you don’t have reliable transportation, look for something nearby or wait until you can bring a car to campus. Also, remember to factor in transportation time — you don’t want to be late to an exam because roads were slippery or traffic was slow!
  2. Be professional. This should go without saying, but think of an internship like a job. Paid or unpaid, you still should make a good impression as an internship could lead to a job or at least a great recommendation one day.
  3. Find something you love or, at the very least, are interested in learning about. UConn requires at least two hours a week to receive one credit, so even though two hours doesn’t seem like a lot, it will if you hate the job you’re doing.
  4. Make sure you have the time. I originally signed up to do six hours a week, and then I remembered I was taking Organic Chemistry II and very promptly cut my hours. I was lucky to have a boss who didn’t mind me switching my hours around, but you may not be so lucky. Make sure you have thoroughly thought about the time commitment you are about to make before you sign on.

Our Companions Animal Rescue is  a unique facility. Each animal has its own personal room to create a home environment, allowing  animals that would never make it in a traditional shelter to thrive. I was an intern for the cat sanctuary. A lot of the job was cleaning and assisting staff with their daily duties, but once I was finished, I got to work very hands on with the cats. My main task was dealing with behavior. For the friendlier cats, this meant getting them used to having their paws touched, being loaded into carriers and getting wrapped in towels. For more skittish cats, my job was to socialize them and get them used to human touch. I was also able to help medicate the cats and shadow the vet when she came to the shelter once a week.

The internship taught me about shelter life, even though OC is different from typical shelters. I learned a lot about behavior and how to create positive, corrective experiences. It will be useful for me in the future as I plan to attend vet school in the fall of 2021. I enjoyed all of my time there and encourage everyone to visit/donate/volunteer or even follow in my footsteps and become an intern there.