2018 Celebration of Undergraduate Research Poster Winners

The Office for Undergraduate Research would like to congratulate all the poster winners from the 2018 Celebration of Undergraduate Research! We thank you for your hard work and effort, and you should be proud of your accomplishments.

Session I Winners

Name Major
Jennifer Hausler Social Sciences
Lacy Hunter Arts & Humanities
Carolyn Liu Natural sciences
Carrington Merritt Social Sciences

Session II Winners

Name Major
Simon Khadka Social Sciences
Dhalia Mohamed Arts & Humanities
Dhru Shankar Natural Sciences
Morgan Vickers Arts & Humanities

Three Exciting GRC Courses for Spring 2018!

Research

If you’re interested in taking an exciting class for spring semester we’d like to suggest three great options – CLAS 057H (Classics), WGST64.001 (Women’s and Gender Studies), and ENGL 695.001 (English). You can sign up for all of these classes now on Connect Carolina.

All three of these are research-exposure courses, which allow undergraduate students to take part in the research process in a collaborative manner and which require the completion of at least one fully-realized research project. REC courses provide a unique opportunity for UNC undergraduates to gain valuable insight into research methods across different disciplines. Keep reading below to learn more. Read More »

SMART Spotlight – Victoria N. Miller

by Victoria N. Miller
Undergraduate Researcher
Mathematical Decision Sciences / Computer Science, class of 2018

Victoria N. Miller is a sharp student, and like a lot of sharp students she wanted to learn about research in a meaningful, direct way and create something important to her. Then she was invited to take part in the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track. “I had no prior knowledge of research before starting SMART,” she said. “All I knew was that I was interested in computer science and wanted to learn and make something applicable to real life situations.”

Acclimatizing to research was no problem for Victoria, though. Her efforts paid off quickly after she dove into her work. “During my time throughout the SMART program, I learned an unbelievable amount,” she said.

“Not only had I learned three more coding languages, but I learned how to diagnose problems and how to search to find the answers I needed. On top of this, I was introduced to the Maker Space, learned how to read and validate scholarly pieces, and networked with many graduate students who continued their education with research.”

Undergraduates at universities everywhere may feel disconnected from their fields if they’re focused simply on learning the boundaries and the foundations of their chosen majors. As a research student, Victoria forged something new, bridging the gap between theory and practice. “I ended up with a Chrome Extension that allows physically disabled users to use Facebook,” she noted. Her connections with research directors also helped her make valuable contacts. “Because of my amazing research mentor, Gary Bishop, I was also able to get in touch with a woman in Australia who is well versed with accessibility technologies.”

Victoria describes her time as an undergraduate researcher in glowing terms. By allowing her to engage with the practical concerns of research and software creation, Victoria learned what research really meant, and what it could mean for her. “Being in SMART gave me a deeper appreciation for the work that goes into research, and also gave me a lot of experience with presenting, which is always a useful skill to have.”

She gained more than just some ink on her resume through the research program. “SMART also gave me a great network of friends who I learned so much from and even still talk to today.

 

SURF Spotlight – Chris LaMack

by Chris LaMack
Undergraduate Researcher
History / Archaeology / Anthropology, class of 2019

I first heard about the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program through my English 105 course during my freshman year at UNC: the unit project for our ‘Writing in the Natural Sciences’ unit was a mock SURF application. This was spring semester, and I had just begun volunteering in the Research Laboratories of Archaeology, making 3D Structure-from-Motion models of artifacts in UNC’s collections.

Chris LaMack at Town Creek Indian Mound.

I was intrigued by the potential of this technology to enable a volunteer with modest training to record important works of art and objects of cultural patrimony; I had also recently attended a talk about the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Syria, and how some volunteers were risking their lives to document these sites before they were erased. I reckoned that, since Structure-from-Motion is such an approachable and accessible technology (all you need to make a 3D model this way is a digital camera and software downloadable from anywhere with an internet connection), there might be something to utilizing this method to create accurate digital representations of threatened sites, to be curated in accessible online repositories.

Thanks to SURF and my amazing faculty adviser Steve Davis, I was able to actually test a few site documentation methods, an invaluable experience which provided insights I hope to further hone and organize to create an easy-to-use field guide for volunteers. Every bit as important as confirming workable approaches is learning what doesn’t work, and my research allowed me to improve my design, and account for a variable that no breathless idea pitch and paper scheme can truly get at: that cultural preservation is, above all else, a labor of love.

It is a love, I am pleased to say, that I have discovered in myself.

 

University Research Week Schedule

University Research Week

October 9 – October 13

University Research Week (URW), a semi-annual, campus-wide event designed to improve awareness of what it means to be a research university and enhance opportunities for undergraduate students to join the research community. Students, faculty, departments and centers are encouraged to sponsor or participate in activities during this week so that we may learn more about the variety of inspiring research and scholarship that takes place at Carolina.

Monday, October 9

  • OUR: Getting Started in Research-Workshop, 039 Graham Memorial 2:30-3:45pm
  • UNC Global: Global Project Showcase Student Union 3102 12:20 – 1:20pm
  • Talk to UNC JOURney, UNC Libraries, UNC Medical Dialogues, and the Honor Court about undergraduate research, Davis Library Canopy, 12:00-3:00pm
  • Mathematics Department: Fluid labs tours. Chapman Hall basement, B01., 3:00 – 4:00pm
  • Mathematics Department: Research talks for undergrads Phillips Hall, Rm 330, 4:00 – 5:00pm
  • Be A Maker Calendar
  • Biology Department Lab Tours
  • House Undergraduate Library

Tuesday, October 10

Wednesday, October 11

Thursday, October 12

Friday, October 13

  • Political Science Department: Dr. Frank Baumgartner’s Deadly Justice Hitchcock Multipurpose Room, Stone Center 11:00am
  • Health Science Library: Predatory Publishing: Do not become a prey. HSL, Rm 227 12:00 – 1:00 pm
  • Communication Department: Beyond Fake News, Pleasants Family Room, Wilson Library, 12:15 – 1:45pm
  • English and Comparative Literature Department : What does Research in the Humanities Look Like and How Can Undergraduates Get Involved?” Greenlaw 223, 2:00-3:00pm
  • Ackland Art Museum: Discover a work of art to investigate. Museum Tours, 5:00pm, 5:30pm, 6:30pm
  • Psych & NeuroFest: Davie Hall 1st floor lobby, 2:30 – 4:30 in the 1st floor lobby of Davie Hall.
  • Be A Maker Calendar
  • House Undergraduate Library

Marine Research: “It’s Always Been Dolphins.”

by Liah Laila McPherson
Undergraduate Researcher
Biology/Psychology, 
class of 2019

It’s always been dolphins. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by their lives and intelligence. What’s going on in their complex brains? How and what do they communicate with each other? What are they thinking about as they glide past and look you in the eye? These are questions that I share with Dr. Denise Herzing, founder of the Wild Dolphin Project (WDP), who has been studying wild Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in the Bahamas for nearly 35 years. As a former intern for the project, I was invited back this summer to assist with six 10-day research trips aboard the project’s 62ft power catamaran, the RV Stenella.

In the crystalline waters surrounding Grand Bahama and Bimini the Wild Dolphin Project performs non-invasive underwater research to study the ecology, behavior, and communication of dolphins. We don’t harass, chase, or touch the dolphins, and all interactions are voluntary— the dolphins have their own agenda and will disappear in a heartbeat or evade us completely if they want to. Often, they’re interested in or at least accepting of our company and will spend anywhere from three minutes to three hours zooming around us in the water or simply allowing us to peer into their daily lives.

My typical day on Stenella begins shortly after sunrise when I bring the camera gear outside on the deck and prepare for the day’s research. Following breakfast (and a quick morning swim, weather permitting), I take my coffee up to the bridge of the boat and scan the horizon for dolphins as we lift anchor and begin our search. If it’s bottlenose dolphins we find, we photograph them from the surface for identification, as they tend not to stick around when we enter the water. We sometimes take surface shots of spotted dolphins too, but most of our data is gathered underwater with cameras and hydrophones as we record their behavior and vocalizations. Every evening I spend time entering and analyzing data on the computers.

Depending on which individuals we find during the day and what behaviors they’re exhibiting, I am responsible for either photographing or videoing the dolphins underwater. All of the dolphins have names and are identifiable by their spot patterns and features such as fin and body scars. They have “names” of sorts within their own communication system as well— these are known as signature whistles, and each dolphin has its own unique whistle. The video cameras we use are outfitted with hydrophones to record these whistles and other complex vocalizations. Underwater we record a wide variety of behaviors such as foraging, courtship, play and aggression. Sometimes they’ll even imitate humans or play with us!

Wild Dolphin Project’s motto is “In their world, on their terms…”— it’s important to note that all of our interactions with wild dolphins are non invasive and solely for research purposes. WDP has attained Bahamian research permits to study these animals. Please be respectful of wild dolphins and whales in US and Bahamian waters; it is illegal to approach and swim with them without a permit.

I first decided to attend UNC for my undergraduate education, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pursue marine biology as I wished, given that the Marine Science department is small, and the university isn’t located near the ocean. However, the experience and connections I have gained so far are invaluable. The marine science classes I’ve taken at UNC have been of the highest caliber, and I’ve been fortunate to participate as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Adrian Marchetti’s phytoplankton lab for three semesters. Now, I’m in Bermuda to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation. Until mid November, I’ll be conducting an independent research project, studying the light use efficiency of coral reef communities under the mentorship of professors Dr. Yvonne Sawall and Dr. Eric Hochberg. I was encouraged to apply by Dr. Marchetti, and was selected as one of eight students to attend this program. Without being involved in the Marine Science program at UNC, I would have never even discovered this opportunity.

My greatest aspiration has always been to study dolphins and the marine environment they live in. With enough determination, I think everyone has the potential to chase their dreams, and there’s no better nursery for those dreams than a university like UNC. College is whatever you make of it, and studying Marine Science at Carolina is no exception.

How do I get started in research as an undergrad? (Database Edition)

by Kaushik Puranam
Undergraduate Researcher
Chemistry, Class of 2018

hands typing on a keyboardGetting started in undergraduate research can be a daunting experience. One way to look for a research position is through the OUR research opportunities database – something I did my sophomore year at Carolina.

I started as simply as I could think of – with a Google search for undergraduate research at UNC. The first thing that came up was the OUR website and the database. Seeing this made the database made me wish I’d known as a freshman how easy it was to search for a research opportunity – I would have started in my first year.

Since only open positions are posted, this made finding a position more straightforward for me than emailing around to different professors asking about potential openings. On the database, researchers post details about the position type (credit, pay, volunteer), availability (fall, spring, summer), contact information, and a description of the project. All of them are searchable by major or area of study. From the first email to getting hired took me less than three weeks. Here are some pointers for anyone looking to use the database to find a research position:

  1. There tend to be more a larger number of new postings right before the new school year starts and the first couple weeks of every new semester, so check back regularly around those times if you’re looking for a position.
  2. Remember, these postings are directly from professors, therefore the quicker you act upon them the better. If you contact the professor a week after the posting, chances are that they have already been contacted by several other students and have set up interviews.
  3. Does this mean that you should apply to every posting you see for your major that day its posted? No, of course not, you should apply for research opportunities that interest and excite you while keeping in mind that you may not find the position you are exactly looking for in the database.
  4. Stay positive whilst applying for different research positions! Getting a research position in your first try is rare so keep your head up and be on the lookout for the next opening.

After the post-doc I was working with accepted a job at a different university, I was on the hunt for another position. Since I had knew several labs doing interesting research by then, I emailed a few labs I was interested in. Now, I am doing neuroscience research in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology where I am researching survival in neurons and cancer cells after suffering damage.

Research can be such a rewarding experience; I was lucky enough to find my first research lab through this database and I was exposed to many new techniques that I never thought I would be getting the chance to utilize as an undergraduate. The most important thing to remember is to apply to positions that truly interest you so that you can not only prove your passion to the Principal Investigator but also be excited yourself about the amazing prospects of doing research at UNC.

Finding the Right Research Experience

by Jeet Patel, OUR Ambassador

Getting started in research can be a daunting and frustrating process. When you first get started there are a lot of variables – field of study, type of work, environment – which you may not even consider just trying to get your foot in the door. But what do you do if, once you get your first research opportunity, you are unhappy with your position? Some might feel stuck because they don’t want to go through the process of finding a new opportunity while others might shy away from research entirely. While it is nice to find a great research job and stick with it, you shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting a bit to find a good fit.

My first research experience was during high school. I was a summer intern at Duke (I know what you might be thinking, but keep in mind that Duke is a great research university despite some of its faults and there are many opportunities for UNC students to work there) in a lab studying protein biochemistry. I worked on a computer sifting through data and running computer simulations. Most of the work I got to do was very defined and didn’t involve any problem solving, which was a major reason I became interested in research in the first place. I didn’t really have the opportunity to create my own experiments and mostly looked through online databases or ran code for the graduate students. I spent a lot of time not really knowing why what I was doing mattered.

While my lab doesn’t necessarily study exactly what I want to, I am very interested in the work being done here and have been able to learn a lot from this experience that will aid me in my next experience.

I did gain a lot of valuable skills from this first research experience. Working in different labs, you get exposure to a variety of ideas and sometimes entirely differently subjects. Working at this lab also helped me realize that I didn’t want to work in a completely dry lab setting. When I started applying to labs in college,  I took a chance and applied to a different kind of biology lab looking for an undergrad to train and work on an independent project. Now, I am working on a project studying the development of oral tissues, which is not something I had ever really thought about prior to joining my lab.

I spend a lot of time doing bench work and collecting data and have been able to take a more active role in the progression of my project. I’m a lot more engaged in the subject matter and I have gained a skill set entirely different from my first research experience. My mentor and PI have helped me integrate into all aspects of performing research – from grant writing to publishing – which has made me feel much more involved and given me a better sense of the goals that I am working towards. While my lab still doesn’t necessarily study exactly what I want to, I am very interested in the work being done here and have been able to learn a lot from this experience that will aid me in my next experience.

 

compbiocomic
I do miss some of the work I did previously. Sometimes it is nice to have full control over a project or to get an immediate result, which is a less common occurrence at the bench. Having worked in both of these different settings, I now feel like I have a much better idea of what I would like to pursue in the future. Working at a crossroads of computational and experimental research seems to be the ideal choice for me, one that would not have been clear had I not worked in these two settings. I also might not have gained the mindset of a developmental biologist if I had not taken the leap out of computational science.

Whether you are a new researcher or just looking for a change of pace, don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. There are a lot of opportunities available and finding the best fit will make research that much more fun and engaging. Keep in mind:

  • What kind of work do you want to do: computer-based, working with people, historical analysis, or bench work, etc.
  • What fields are you interested in (even if you aren’t majoring in it, research can be a good way to get exposure in a different area of study)?
  • What do you want to gain? Some people may want to work independently while others might want to assist in research or perform guided work.

Even if you don’t get the job you want the first time, every research experience can be valuable. Make sure you get as much out of it as possible!

Recruiting 2016-2017 OUR Ambassadors!

3 ambassadors speaking to a room full of students

OUR Ambassadors speaking with interested undergrads

Are you a current undergraduate student (first year, sophomore, or junior) with experience finding creative answers to questions in your field? Do you enjoy talking about your creative work, entrepreneurship, or research? Would you like to have access to professional and leadership development opportunities? Are you interested in helping to support and expand the work of the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR)

If so, apply to become an OUR Ambassador! Please complete the application by April 5, 2016 (don’t forget to send a copy of your resume to our@unc.edu).

The OUR Ambassadors Program is designed to:

  • Build a cohort of student ambassadors to support and enhance the work of the Office for Undergraduate Research – from art to biology to policy
  • Create opportunities for students to help build a community of undergraduate researchers throughout UNC
  • Provide peer mentors to incoming and current students interested in creative solutions through projects and research
  • Offer professional and leadership development opportunities to OUR Ambassadors
  • Assist OUR in developing fundraising activities

You can read about some of our current Ambassadors here.

Requirements:

  • Complete application and interview process
  • Meet 3-5 times during the academic year with OUR staff for program planning and professional development
  • Commit 15-20 hours/semester to Ambassador activities. In addition to Ambassador meetings, you might mentor current and incoming students, participate in panels or present in classes about undergraduate research, and engage in other outreach activities, including fundraising

If you have any questions, email us at our@unc.edu.

It takes a village to understand a neighborhood: On the interdisciplinarity of research

Dr. Wizdom Powell speaking at a podium

Wizdom Powell, PhD, giving the IAAR Faculty Fellows Lecture at the Stone Center

written by Yesenia Merino, OUR Outreach Coordinator

 

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture given by Dr. Wizdom Powell, UNC Institute for African American Research (IAAR) Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior. Her talk, given in the beautiful UNC Stone Center, was entitled “They Can’t Breathe: Why Neighborhoods Matter for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Outcomes Among Emerging Adult African American Men,” and detailed the work that has informed her current project looking at how communities impact the lived experiences of African American men in Durham, NC.

 

Studies like the one Dr. Powell described remind me of the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and all the potential points of entry for someone looking to get involved in research available within a single project. While the researcher in me was enthralled with the details of her work given its salience in the current sociopolitical climate in and around UNC, the part of me that strives to see things from the perspective of someone outside of academia was astounded at the sheer scope and size of her work. She began her project by trying to understand the neighborhood environment – a step that involved collaborating with Dr. Debra Furr-Holden at Johns Hopkins University to learn how to spot and measure signs of substance use or social disorder at the neighborhood level – then went on to recount her collaborations with a developer that could turn their data collection form into a smartphone app, a designer to help brand the project, a team of students to collect the data, and countless other experts and stakeholders providing input into the process.

 

team of researchers standing together

Dr. Powell’s Men’s Health Research Lab Team (from left to right): Leslie Adams, Andre Brown, Tamera Taggart, Wizdom Powell, Jennifer Richmond, Tainayah Thomas

As Dr. Powell waxed poetic about the importance of student researchers in executing a study of this magnitude (as well as the need for more students interested in the project moving forward), how much she learned from them in addition to them learning from her expertise, the OUR Outreach Coordinator in me naturally thought about what kind of undergraduate might be a good fit for this study:

  • Art majors – to help develop the study branding or help analyze the deeper meanings behind some of visual aspects of community
  • Geography majors – to help map out (and make sense of) all the components of the neighborhood that constitute the Durham community
  • History and political science majors – to help situate the findings from the data within the social-political-historical context that has made Durham what it is today
  • Social science majors – to help unpack the lived experiences of African American men in Durham
  • Statistics and computational biology majors – to help analyze the data necessary to draw conclusions about how neighborhood factors impact the health and well-being of participants
  • Computer science majors – to help leverage existing technologies and develop new solutions (e.g. a smartphone app that can serve as a mental health intervention as Dr. Powell mentioned)
  • Countless others I haven’t thought of…

The fact of the matter is that studies like the one Dr. Powell discussed are looking to tackle big issues and thus necessitate many different perspectives in order to find a way through what Dr. Powell affectionately calls “wicked problems.” At an elite research institution like UNC, the question is not so much if there are opportunities for you to conduct research in your field as it is a matter of finding a research opportunity that fits your interests.

 

Getting Involved
If you’re interested in working in Dr. Powell’s Men’s Health Research Lab, please email adamslb@email.unc.edu or wizdom.powell@unc.edu. For other research opportunities,