See Gabi’s story on UConn Today
By Dana Chamberlain.
College was hard for me. I came in not really knowing what I wanted to do and am graduating still not fully knowing what’s next for me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past four years at UConn, it’s that success isn’t linear. Some people enter college knowing exactly what they want to do, never change their mind, and end up happy in a successful career. Other people spend many years trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do, trying out a bunch of different paths until stumbling upon something they love. So, all of this is to say, you don’t need to know exactly who you are and what you want to do at 18 or even at 22. The most important thing is that you never stop learning or growing. Things will hopefully fall into place when you are honest with yourself about what you want in life and put in the work to get it.
As I reflect on my time here at UConn, there are a few things I wish I fully understood earlier on. To the incoming first-year class, here are some things I wish I knew my first year:
Mental health above all
I am no stranger to depression and anxiety. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed when all you want to do is sleep the day away or to work on an assignment when your mind is elsewhere. Trying to stay on top of your academics while maintaining friendships, participating in extracurricular activities, and worrying about your future can be really overwhelming and stressful.
At the end of the day, you are not a robot and can only do so much. It is so unbelievably important to put your mental wellbeing first. Take time each day to care for yourself and rest. Set boundaries when you can. If you have a ton of assignments all due on the same day and know you won’t be able to finish it all without depriving yourself of sleep, reach out to your professors to see if you can get a deadline extension. Or if you agreed to hang out with a friend on the weekend but are feeling drained after a particularly hard week, text them to see if you can hang out another time. Most people will understand as long as you communicate with them and are honest about when you think you can get things done.
UConn has quite a few resources to help you out too. You can reach out to SHaW-Mental Health for counseling services, the Dean of Students Office to receive extra academic support, and the Center for Student Disabilities to receive housing and/or academic accommodations to support any learning differences or different abilities you might be have. And don’t underestimate the value of a friend who is a good listener! You’re not alone and you will get through this!
Grades are important, but not as important as you might think
Grades are important, so you should try to attend all class sessions, develop good study habits, go to office hours, make friends with your classmates, form study groups, and reach out to your professor with any concerns you might have. However, your grades don’t define you, and one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It’s more important that you continue to improve throughout the semester and your college career and develop good relationships with your professors.
If you’re worried about future jobs or graduate school, you can always explain why you received the grade you did in a cover letter or interview (whether it’s because you were attending to a personal issue or math just isn’t your strong suit, for example.) Also, having formed good relationships with your professor means that they can vouch for you when you need it. Ultimately, letters of recommendation speak louder than grades.
I know that everyone says this, but it’s so important to get involved. College is supposed to be fun! Go to the Involvement Fair each semester and sign up for any and all clubs that interest you. I met so many cool people through attending club meetings and events. Getting involved helps you make friends, learn more about your interests, and feel connected to your campus.
I didn’t really understand how important networking was until my junior year. Job hunting can be rough. Sometimes a familiar face is all you need to get your foot in the door. So, develop good relationships with your professors, TAs, advisors, mentors, classmates, coworkers, etc. You never know who might know of a great opportunity for you or who can speak highly of you in spaces you don’t have access to.
Be open to trying new things and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. I applied to a summer research program for undergraduates (REU) my freshman year on a whim and got in. Now, I’ve been doing research for three years, have had so many doors opened for me, and am planning on a career in research. You never know what could come from saying “yes!”
UConn has a lot to offer. Reading “The Daily Digest” every day is a great way to find out about what’s happening on campus.
Be your own advocate
Last but not least, it’s important to be your own advocate. With so many students on campus, sometimes your professor or advisor won’t notice that you’re struggling. Ask for what you need. Reach out. Remember: closed mouths don’t get fed.
By Soohyun Oh.
As a sophomore here at UConn, my life is filled with uncertainties. I like to think that I have my life and my future figured out, but quite frankly, I am not very sure if I do. This “college thing” came to me like a quick tsunami wave: from taking SATs in high school to being a sophomore in my spring semester. While some students might have already figured out their whole life plan, some might still be undecided majors who aren’t sure what they want to do after graduation.
I entered the University of Connecticut as an exercise science major and I had two possible plans: physical therapy or medical school. Exercise science was a familiar field to me. Like many exercise science majors, I was involved with sports throughout high school, and I was in an environment with a lot of rehabilitation work and physical therapy. For some reason, I wanted to go into the medical field. It was strange because I had no prior experience in the medical field except for hospital TV shows and documentaries which are often a misrepresentation of the realities of medicine. Maybe I was drawn to the white coats, their high social status, not to mention their high payroll. I had very little knowledge about both fields of physical therapy and healthcare, and that’s where the uncertainty developed and my anxiety kicked in.
However, with my experiences at UConn, I can turn my uncertainties into opportunities. As soon as I started my classes, I loved my major. The thing that I love the most about the major is the interdisciplinary course offerings and the flexibility. As a pre-medical student in exercise science, I am taking classes in hard sciences, kinesiology, nutrition, public speaking, psychology, and the list goes on. All these different courses allow me to gain knowledge in various science fields that are relevant not just to exercise science. The coursework is interdisciplinary, but they are also classes that I can apply in my daily life. Courses such as exercise prescription, nutrition, and principles of weight-training provide me with knowledge of exercise planning, nutrition management, and weightlifting. With these classes, I am also able to gain a small insight into what kind of work the physical therapists, nutritionists, and athletic trainers do.
In addition to the courses that help me get a sneak peek of what the fields entail, I also am able to expand my learning outside of the classroom through the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources (CAHNR) itself. I can talk to the CAHNR faculty and professors about my interests. I’ve learned about the different types of physical therapists in addition to those working with athletes. Some physical therapists work with flight attendants, children, and horses (how cool is that!). I have also learned that physical therapy isn’t the only path you can take. I discovered you can continue in graduate school in biomechanics or exercise physiology to be in a research field and even work with companies like Nike or Hershey’s to develop their products. Also, with involvement in research, I can explore cellular and molecular biology, studying how various cell stresses can affect the development of organisms. Through research, I can learn lab techniques, data analysis, questioning, and problem-solving, all of which are necessary skills for graduate school.
One project that I and a colleague started recently with my principal investigator, Dr. Elaine Choung-Hee Lee, is the B.ethical project, which is a blog discussing the medical and scientific ethical issues to educate and bring awareness on the topic. The field of bioethics was something that I have never expected myself to be interested in and study. With this project, I expanded my knowledge on topics such as scientific data on women, racism and discrimination in scientific publications and experimental designs, microaggressions, health disparities in medicine and STEM professions.
When I started college, I expected my life to play out smoothly like a record player because now I am a “grown-up” in college studying a particular field. However, I was not in a place where I expected to be at this stage of my college career. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic put us, college students, into quarantine, limiting our learning opportunities inside and outside of school. Uncertainties and not having a set plan in your life can be scary and challenging and can make you anxious. However, not having a set path also means that your education is limitless: you are not bound in your learning. Through this learning process, I have gained more experience and knowledge about my fields of interests interested in order to someday soon decide on my future path. If your future is uncertain like mine, learn and explore, and you’ll find something that calls you!
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…)
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.
by Hannah Desrochers
Every holiday that I spend with my family, I find myself explaining exactly what a Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) major is, and what I plan to do with it in the future. Many of my friends at UConn think that I am in Environmental or Animal Science. How did I get involved in such a little known major?
Truth be told, I was drawn in after a discussion with Dr. Ortega, one of the NRE faculty members. After just one semester within NRE, I had the opportunity to study ecology abroad in South Africa, and I knew that my future was within this field. I was able to learn about elephants, rhinos, lions, and much more within their natural setting, while also getting some hands-on animal care experience with the camp caracal, Loki. The learning experiences that occurred during my three weeks on the game reserve felt vastly different from any other type of learning I had experienced before, and I was eager to continue those experiences back home at UConn. It was fascinating to see just a small example of the opportunities that are available across the globe to study wildlife.
Since then, I have found myself outside for nearly all of my labs, and for a fair share of my lectures as well. Every semester I have been in classes that have allowed me to do everything from taking water samples in waist deep water, to setting up trail cams to test a hypothesis on what animals inhabit certain areas of campus. It baffles me when I speak to friends in other colleges, who spend all day stuck inside a traditional classroom. Going into college, I was undecided, but I knew that I wanted to go into a profession where I wouldn’t necessarily be stuck behind a desk all day. The College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources as a whole, and specifically Natural Resources, has made that goal a reality.
Just the other day, I visited the Bronx Zoo as part of one of my classes to study mammals. I learned more than I ever could in a classroom, and got to do so out in the fresh air, face to face with amazing animals. Through this experience, I learned about the role of zoos in conservation, while also learning about feeding habits, social structures and many other biological facts. For example, did you know that rhinos are odd-toed ungulates, meaning they are actually related to horses, zebras and tapirs? As a student within the Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation concentration of NRE, it was fascinating to see how conservation is woven into the mission of the zoo. Since my primary interest within NRE is wildlife, I have helped widen my experience and knowledge with a minor in animal science. My interest in animals is purely wildlife, not livestock, which is why I chose NRE over Animal Science, but my minor has helped fill out my understanding in topics such as genetics and reproduction. My experience within the Animal Science minor has also allowed me to work with my dairy heifer, Leah, for a semester and show her in the Little I show!
As a NRE student, I view my major as one that allows me to get hands-on with everything I am learning in a classroom, while preparing me for a future in wildlife research. I am interested in both animal behavior and human impacts on wildlife, and hope to educate the public on how to better improve the world for humanity and the species that coexist with us. The experiences I have gained have helped to shape my goals for the future, and have helped me expand my worldview.
Vaccines are considered to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of public health. Smallpox was officially declared to be an eradicated disease in 1980 (the last recorded case was in Somalia in 1979) (1). Cases of poliomyelitis (polio) have dropped to only 22 reported cases in 2017 from nearly 350,000 cases in 1988 (2). These landmark achievements can be attributed to the success of modern vaccines. Despite these huge successes, anti-vaccination movements have been around since Edward Jenner created the first smallpox vaccine in the early 1800s. Although times have changed, anti-vaccination movements have remained relatively consistent (3). Vaccine critics have expressed a wide variety of concerns, most of which are with regards to safety and efficacy (3,4).
“If vaccines are so effective, why are there so many people that refuse vaccines?”
The modern anti-vaccination movement can be Continue reading
It wasn’t until a mentor mentioned to me, it sounds like you have impostor syndrome that I realized what I had been feeling about my work ethic is actually a common phenomenon shared by many people. It’s disorder that is actually documented in scientific literature. As an aspiring scientist, documentation in scientific journals tells me that this syndrome isn’t some rumor or fad, but is observed in many people, especially students. It reassured me to know that other people feel the same way I do about my work ethic. However, I did not really understand impostor’s syndrome until I was watching a Talks with Google presentation given by Frank Abgnale, current FBI agent and former fraudulent commercial air pilot, doctor, lawyer, and expert check counterfeiter. Anyone who’s ever seen Catch Me if You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio knows that Abgnale did not just feel like a fraud, he literally was one. It wasn’t Mr. Abgnale that was consoling me, but a computer engineer at Google that asked him for advice about her impostor syndrome. For me this was huge, Google is a world renowned, transformative company that must hire some of the most creative and intelligent people. Yet some still feel that they are not good enough at their jobs.
Dr. Valerie Young explains that there are five different types of impostor syndrome; you can read about all five types in this Fast Company article. The type that I find myself expressing is titled “the expert.” People with this type of impostor syndrome struggle with Continue reading