Research

From Cows to Confidence: Personal Growth in Undergraduate Research

Some of the members of Dr. Govoni’s lab and Dr. Reed’s lab explored Baltimore after conference sessions! (Left to right: Veronica Pleasant (UG), Mary Wynn (G), Dominique Martin (G), and Helen Ianniti (UqG)).
Some of the members of Dr. Govoni’s lab and Dr. Reed’s lab explored Baltimore after conference sessions! (Left to right: Veronica Pleasant (UG), Mary Wynn (G), Dominique Martin (G), and Helen Ianniti (UqG)).

One of the scariest parts about being a freshman in the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WiMSE) learning community was the constant encouragement to explore undergraduate research. I also knew that as a pre-veterinary student, finding a place in a laboratory would be a really helpful experience. Fast forward to end of freshman year: I was panicking, emailing professor after professor looking for a place in a lab. After many unanswered emails, someone pointed out to me that the Faculty Director of WiMSE, Dr. Kristen Govoni, would be the perfect person to ask! I’m very grateful that I did! About 18 months later, I’ve been approved for two Supply Awards from the Office of Undergraduate Research, assisted in a project involving young ram lambs, a project involving dairy calves, and travelled to Baltimore, Maryland for the American Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting and Trade Show. I presented my first poster at the Fall Frontiers Convention this month, in fact!

Although the above laundry list of small accomplishments is something I’m very proud of, I am infinitely prouder of the skills and confidence I have gained from this laboratory. When I first began, I had no idea what an actual research lab does all day! The graduate student and the post-doctoral fellow in the lab taught me everything I needed to know to assist a much larger project. When I first began sectioning on a cryostat (it looks like a mini deli meat slicer), I was nervous, seeking approval. As time progressed, and the sheep study last spring began, I grew more confident. I gained inches in confidence, not miles, but I still view that as progress.

Last spring, Dr. Govoni asked the undergraduates in the lab (three of us, at the time), to each write an OUR grant proposal. It’s an application for undergraduate project funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research at UConn. This was my first experience in scientific writing, and it was pretty rough, at first. As I began to understand what we were doing in the lab and how it could be applied to real life situations, farmers, and animals, I realized the potential maternal nutrition research could have on the public. Throughout the proposal drafting process, I learned how to take constructive criticism, and write scientifically in a way that still emphasized the importance of animal research.

I think the hardest part of being an undergraduate in a fully functional research laboratory is feeling stupid or ignorant. As undergraduates, we’re almost naturally going to be the least educated person in the room, and the scientists we work under are experts in their fields. However, we also have to remember that they were undergraduates once too, and that we can better ourselves learning from them. The biggest take-home from my experience is this: never stop just because you have no idea what you’re doing; you never know who might help you realize your hidden potential!

My First Professional Conference

Mindy on the Tampa conference center steps overlooking the water
Mindy on the Tampa conference center steps overlooking the water

I have always had a love for the environment and the water, so naturally, when choosing my major I picked one that incorporated all of my interests – Natural Resources. Coming into this field I really did not have a specific path I wanted take and was open to guidance. I joined clubs and started research to try and see which environmental aspects caught my interest. However, it wasn’t until my research lab sent out an email about the American Fisheries Society annual meeting that I found the perfect opportunity to explore my field. Whether it was attending multiple symposiums or networking with some of the most influential and intelligent fisheries managers, policy makers, and biologists the possibilities were endless.

The schedule of events for the annual meeting, along with the August 2017 fisheries magazine
The schedule of events for the annual meeting, along with the August 2017 fisheries magazine

Professional meetings are a perfect time to gain skills and knowledge that you would not be able to experience back at home. I spent most of my time attending some of the 74 symposiums, all of which had different foci. Some of these topics included fish health management, biochemical tropic markers, lionfish, large oil spills, and more! Since my university research and experience span from freshwater fish to saltwater fish and everything in between I made sure to go to a diverse array of seminars. I was very overwhelmed at first because there was so much to chose from, however, seminar after seminar I realized which field I was more interested in than others. My personal favorite being Swirling, Jumping, Burping and Farting: Pre-Spawning Aggregation Behaviors of Bonefish (Albula vulpes) by Andy J. Danylchuk. The intriguing title led many to his meeting room and his pre-spawning aggregation findings were incredible. I also attended a very valuable talk on the future of the nation’s fisheries and aquatic resources. During this seminar I received Continue reading

Start-Up Your Research Career

The summer 2016 interns and their mentors on presentation day.
The summer 2016 interns and their mentors on presentation day.

Did you ever have a product idea or insight that never got beyond the imagination stage? Many people do, but few people have experience with entrepreneurial startup companies that take the big leaps necessary to develop ideas into new services or technologies that create a market or meet customer needs. This may seem like a daunting idea to start your own company, but UConn has developed the Technology Incubation Program which provides facilities and services to support start-up companies and to promote technology development in the state of Connecticut. There are facilities at the UConn Storrs, Farmington, and Avery Point campuses which all provide laboratory and office space, access to instruments and equipment, and business and financial planning to startup companies.

In the laboratory checking for viability and counting cells on the microscope.
In the laboratory checking for viability and counting cells on the microscope.

Although you may not be ready to jump in and start your own company, you can still learn what it’s like to work for a start-up through the UConn-TIP Bioscience, Entrepreneurship & STEM Internship Program. This program was designed to pair undergraduate, graduate, and recent graduate students in the STEM field with one of the start-up companies in the UConn TIP program. During the ten week internship, the student will work on a project created by their sponsoring TIP mentor, and will attend a variety of workshops focused on career development, networking, preparing for grad/med school, and specific technology based talks.

This past summer, I was paired with a company called ImStem Biotechnology as a TIP intern at the Farmington UConn Health campus. ImStem aims to provide a cell therapy product using human pluripotent stem cells in order to treat a variety of human autoimmune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. My specific project was to culture the stem cell product with human immune cells from various donors to detect for any activation of the immune cells. This project was important for the company because in order to move a drug onto the market, the FDA requires a series of safety studies to be performed to assure that the drug will not adversely affect the health of the patient. The data that I collected and analyzed was used in the proposal to the FDA for the continuation of ImStem’s drug development. At the end of the internship period, each student is required to Continue reading

Tips on Finding Student Employment

Going to college is an amazing experience both academically and socially, but it can be very expensive, as most students know. Tuition, housing, food, gas, utilities, and school supplies can add up to quite a large amount. On top of that, any additional costs such as season basketball tickets, concert tickets, and daily trips to the Dairy Bar can really put a strain on your budget.

Getting a job while attending school is an excellent way to offset some of the many expenses incurred at college. In addition to this, having a job while attending college can help build your resume while you are earning a degree which can give you an advantage in the job field after graduation. Also, you won’t have to experience the fear of missing out on any once in a lifetime opportunities such as studying abroad or taking a trip with friends for spring break.

I am staining a set of Western Blot strips for a Lyme disease test at the CVMDL.
I am staining a set of Western Blot strips for a Lyme disease test at the CVMDL.

A great place to start your job search is by using the employment resources offered by the university through the UConn student employment website. There is a job search engine where you can set your preferences and look at the available jobs and see what qualifications are necessary. Job opportunities range from working at a dining hall, to driving vans for community outreach, to working in a lab, or working at the gym. There are many jobs to choose from and the postings are updated regularly, so check back often if nothing fits your preferences. You can also visit the Student Financial Aid Services office on the first floor of the Wilbur Cross Building which contains student employment services. They can answer any questions and assist with filling out the necessary paperwork for an on-campus job.

Another employment option is working at a privately owned business on or near campus. Storrs center has many businesses including Moe’s, Geno’s Grille, and CVS which all hire students regularly. With all the new construction in Storrs center, new businesses are opening often so keep an eye out for help-wanted flyers. There are also many businesses along North Eagleville Road including Dunkin Donuts and Baja Café that hire students.

I have had an on-campus job working in the serology department at the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) for the past two and a half years. I stumbled upon the opportunity when one of my professors mentioned that the lab needed student workers. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience because I have received hands on training in diagnostic technique for pathogens such as Salmonella, Equine Infectious Anemia, Avian Influenza, and Lyme disease. In addition to this, I have met some amazing staff members in the Pathobiology department who have given valuable advice on classes, internships, and my future career. The professors and staff from your department can be great resources, so keep an eye out for any opportunities that may come your way. Finding employment opportunities within your field of interest can be a rewarding and valuable experience, and can help pay the bills!

 

UConn IDEA Grant

Katelyn in the Lab
Working in Dr. Kristen Govoni’s laboratory in the Department of Animal Science

In August 2013, I had just begun a time-consuming and costly project in my research laboratory and I began investigating ways to fund this research. I was reading the Daily Digest, and by chance stumbled upon an advertisement for an information session for the newly developed UConn IDEA Grant. After reading the description, I was hesitant to attend because it appeared to be geared more towards new business or invention ideas. However, it did mention a traditional research project, so I attended the informational session. At this session I learned that the IDEA Grant was a two stage process in which during the first semester long stage one completes a short online course to refine his/her project and in the second stage, during the following semester or summer, one works on his/her project. I was encouraged to apply as the program had just broadened to include tradition scientific research projects such as my own.

I turned in the grant for my project entitled The effects of poor maternal nutrition on liver development in lambs and awaited the committee’s decision. Fortunately I was chosen to be a part of the second cohort for the IDEA Grant. While I was excited that I had been awarded the grant, I was apprehensive at first about the attached online class I had to complete in the spring, I already had a full course load that semester. However, the online class ended up being extremely beneficial Continue reading

SURF’s Up: Undergraduate Research

As I looked through my grant proposal for the 7th time, I reflected on how far I’d come since the beginning of my experience as an undergraduate research assistant. I had been working at the Agriculture Biotechnology Laboratory for 2 semesters before I started becoming curious and developing research questions of my own.

When I first heard about being involved in research, I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I thought I would give it a try. I worked with a graduate student who was my main mentor and taught me everything I know about procedures, problem solving, and analyzing data. I ended up loving research so much that I thought I could find ways to become even more involved. I was introduced to the concept of undergraduate research grants at the Career Night hosted by CAHNR, but I was hesitant to apply due to the competitive nature of funding. Never would I have imagined that my research proposal would be accepted!

I applied for a SURF or Summer Undergraduate Research Fund award, in January 2014. The application consisted of Continue reading