Reflection and Resolution: The Summer Internship Program at NIEHS

Written by Yasemin Cole, Biology Major

As the year came to a close, I reflected on the opportunities UNC-Chapel Hill has given me and the amount I have grown academically since I entered as a first year student. One experience topped the list: this past summer, as I was preparing to leave for my nine week journey to study abroad in London, I received exciting news from my mentor at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) that I would be a co-author of a scientific research article. I was ecstatic to hear the news and the memories came flowing back in my mind of my time in the lab running western blots and going into the dark room time after time to develop films. My experience at NIEHS sparked my passion for scientific research and gave me fundamental research skills that I have built upon as a Biology major at UNC.

Reflecting on the experience, I knew that my hard work in the lab for the past two summers had paid off — not because a paper was published with my name on it but because I had helped find something that no one has seen before.

During the summer before my freshman year and the summer before my sophomore year I spent 8 weeks each summer working at NIEHS with the Summer Internship Program (SIP). With the help of my mentor, I researched the role of Glis3 (a transcription factor which regulates insulin production) in transdifferentiating an exocrine cell into an insulin-producing beta cell. The following summer, I built upon this work by researching the protein-protein interaction between an ubiquitin ligase and Glis3 to see how it affects insulin transcription. Through this research process, I learned the art of experimentation and built the curiosity to analytically question results one step at a time.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park

To a non-science major student these terms may be unfamiliar but the point is that as a first year I was able to learn about these incredible cellular mechanisms that occur in each cell of your body. To me, that is an amazing thing! Potentially in the future, with further research, we will be able to identify therapeutic targets for the treatment of diabetes (an insulin related disease). I know that my research is one small step in the many steps that will eventually help someone who is sick.

Beyond working in the lab, the SIP program provided me with the opportunity to explore my scientific interests by listening to talks and presentations given by other labs at NIEHS. Furthermore, all SIP participants attended planned seminars and workshops on topics such as UV radiation and pollution (which were my favorite). At the end of the program, all participants presented their research at the poster session. Apart from these enriching activities, I met other UNC students and college students from around the U.S. who are as passionate as I am for science. This program by far went beyond the expectations that I had when I applied.

My suggested New Year’s resolution for you is to apply for this internship program and to take part in this incredible experience. If I could apply again for this internship program I wouldn’t think twice; I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It made me realize how basic scientific research works and how it benefits human health. Since this research experience, I have been brought back to these thoughts in all of my Biology classes where we learn about amazing scientific discoveries and feats. But nothing can compare to tangibly performing experiments and discovering results that no one has seen before; that is the beauty of scientific research.


Note: The deadline for the Summer 2015 SIP is March 1, 2015.

My Summer in Shillong

- written by Courtney Shepard, Anthropology and South Asian Studies

When I entered UNC-Chapel Hill, I never imagined myself spending a summer in northeast India undertaking a research project.  However, this unlikely possibility started to become a reality when I took courses such as Indian Colonialism and Anthropology of Development.  These courses interested me to the point that I wanted to study these topics on my own time, and last year, I decided to attend UNC’s Summer in India program. My experience in India has challenged me intellectually and sparked a love for the diversity and complexity of South Asian culture. courtney 2

With immense help from my academic advisor, I was able to  develop a plan for my summer research. I was ecstatic to receive the  Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) as it allowed me to go to Shillong, India.  Shillong is in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, and I quickly realized that this part of India is so different from the rest of the country. It is an area with great tribal and governmental conflict, a place that still has traces of British colonialism. The northeast is a geographically beautiful area with many waterfalls and root bridges, but is also unfortunately an area of unsafe migration and human trafficking. During my time in Shillong, I worked  with an organization called Impulse Social Enterprises, which spun off from an anti-human trafficking NGO, and now aims to provide a sustainable livelihood to weavers across the northeastern states of India. My main goal was to assess the degree to which Impulse Social Enterprises creates a safe and sustainable livelihood for artisans in northeast India.

My experience was amazing in many different ways, but completely different than anything I could’ve imagined.  To conduct my research, I volunteered as an intern in the main Impulse office in Shillong to learn about the background and history of the organization.  I met artisans working with Impulse in the neighboring state of Assam. I stayed with a master artisan, Rekha, who taught me the basics of weaving and how to make a living off of it. I also had the privilege of meeting some local Khasi weavers in a village called Um Den who weave through a natural and environmentally sustainable process, using silk worms and natural dyes. I’ve tasted a fresh, local, and transparent food chain, and taken in the breathtaking natural wonders of northeast India. During my time in Shillong, I stayed with a host family, which was important in helping me pick up the culture and history in and around the city. I’ve befriended other volunteers and interns at the organization and made some great contacts.

courtney 3This summer experience has been important as I now have some clarity on what I want to pursue in the future.  The experience forced me to learn how to conduct interviews with management in an NGO setting, often with people who do not speak the same language as I do.  With this research as a building block, I will continue documenting worldwide craft culture in its various forms. My ultimate aim is to capture more moments, stories,  and techniques, and eventually present the beauty of environmentally compatible small-scale craft culture. The  opportunity to do undergraduate research at Carolina is incredible because of the immense support the school offers to students, along with amazing opportunities for networking and chances to take on things you never thought were possible.

To read more about my experience in Shillong, please visit my personal blog at

Research – It’s About What You Don’t Know

- written by Maria Williams, 2014 SMART Transfer Recipient

Before transferring to UNC Chapel Hill, I attended a community college. There, I discovered my passion – teaching. I wanted to teach mathematics at the college level, and with this path chosen, I needed to find out how to get there – this brought up new questions. Should I go for a masters or doctorate degree? Research or course-based track? What is the role of a math person in the world of scientific research? What would that be like?

The SMART program was exactly what I was looking for – a guided introduction to scientific research. That the program extended over the summer and was a paid fellowship was icing on the cake. Like many transfer students at UNC, my course load over the school year left little time to explore research, even as a volunteer. As an older full-time student, I was entirely dependent on financial aid to cover my tuition and living expenses, thus limiting my summer options. I applied to the SMART-Transfer summer research program to finally be able to explore my interest in research.

Sea squirts, pictured above, have a very similar circulatory system as humans, making them an unlikely close relative.

I was accepted into Dr. Laura Miller’s lab, and my main task was researching the circulatory system of sea squirts. The goal of the project was to create a computation model, and I considered myself at best a novice with coding. I worried that my mathematic knowledge would not be sufficient and my biology was more than a bit rusty – after all, it had been over ten years since I’d even touched a microscope.

I spent the first few weeks reading. I learned about fluid mechanics and read about previous research related to our area of investigation – the sea squirt heart and its remarkable similarities to the human heart. Despite spending this time reading, I felt I truly wasn’t learning anything and felt lost. This is where the SMART program helped me the most.

In the weekly SMART meetings we discussed each other’s research projects and learned valuable skills for reading and writing scientific publications, giving Chalk Talks, creating scientific posters, and being a researcher in general. Most importantly, through our weekly meetings I found that I was not alone in feeling lost and confused. My fellow SMART-Transfer students were in the same boat as I was. I became comfortable enough to speak to Dr. Shemer and Dr. Waldrop about my concerns. They reassured me that in research, a feeling of confusion and curiosity was to be expected. After talking with my peers and supervisors, my confidence in the lab skyrocketed.

During the SMART experience, I learned to operate a stereo light microscope, which I used to capturing video of the animals. Using still frames of video, I traced and measured the diameters of the heart and main apparent blood vessels. Using these measurements, I wrote a MATLAB code to create a two dimensional representation of the tunicate circulatory system, to be used in simulations. I ran simulations, tweaked parameters in the code for vessel elasticity and heart pumping force, and ran simulations again. I analyzed the resulting simulation data through visualization software. I hadn’t known how to do any of these things before the program began. At the start, I had been so concerned about what I didn’t know. However, I found a new perspective – research is all about what you don’t know.

It’s true that research can be frustrating, dry, and difficult. However, through the SMART program, I’ve discovered that it can also be rewarding and even fun. I’ve found mentors for life and a passion for this project apparent to anyone who has asked me “How was your summer?” Thus far, our adjustments to the computational model have been unsuccessful in yielding heart pumping behavior as seen in the animal. That’s ok. That’s research. I’ll be staying on through the school year as a volunteer to see this through, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Research as Art and Growth

- written by Chris Register, SURF 2014 Recipient

My research experience has helped me grow tremendously. Not only have I learned a great deal about the content of my research, but I have also learned about what it is like to perform independent research in a graduate or post-graduate atmosphere. First-hand research is a different experience entirely from the classroom because it allows for much more freedom to explore and grow.

The Cognitive Hexagon, above, shows the six fields of study that make up cognitive science.

For my project on Bayesian Models of Cognition, I met with Professor David Danks at Carnegie-Mellon University. As a leading scholar in the philosophy of cognitive models, Professor Danks provided invaluable feedback on the results of my research project. In my last meeting with Professor Danks, I told him about how much I had learned by being immersed in a research environment as opposed to a classroom. Perhaps the contrast is a difference in kind; a research experience, as an immersive and “hands-on” activity, teaches you to know-how, whereas classroom learning is primarily teaching you to know-that. In research, one gains a robust knowledge of very fine-grained differences in the various practices and ideas of one’s field. Professor Danks and I considered the possibility that the difference is immersion; complete involvement in a field lets one see every dimension, practical and theoretical. In this way, we can see that learning about a field—whether philosophy, psychology or any other specialized discipline—is very much like learning a new language: the hands-on experience really makes a world of difference in one’s understanding.

As a philosophy student, I was not sure if there would be a great difference between my undergraduate and graduate studies – after all, reading, contemplating, discussing and writing are all activities that will continue to graduate-level courses. And yet, Professor Danks stressed the difference to me. In undergraduate philosophy, one primarily explains others’ ideas or grapples with them on the other’s terms. In graduate philosophy, one begins to develop and express one’s own ideas. It is a difference of degree: as one pursues research more independently, moving further afield from the beaten path, the language becomes less well-defined. The questions become more exploratory. In independent research, one sets out the domain of inquiry; you are free to define the problem, and hence, to choose your own practice. The difference stressed by Professor Danks is that in this sort of research, there is more freedom. Correspondingly, there is more demand on the researcher. When one creates one’s own questions about the world, the “correct” answers do not yet exist. That is the nature of novel research: to create the answers to new questions. In this way, research is a kind of art—it is creative and exploration is encouraged.

My SURF experience allowed me to travel to Pittsburgh, PA to speak with Professor Danks. Above is the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.

The language of a discipline is the canvas for research. It is a language that one must come to know in order to produce beautiful works in that domain of human knowledge. Over the course of my research, I developed a more nuanced understanding of the Philosophy of Cognitive Science and of the language of Bayesian models of cognition. Only after undertaking an immersive investigation of Bayesian models was I able to produce something interesting. And while the product of my research—a paper—is simply a fruit from the tree, it is the growth of the tree which carries over into the coming academic seasons.

On that note, I would like to thank my advisor, Professor Laurie Paul, for encouraging me to pursue this project in a highly independent fashion. She knew that the experience and growth over the course of the project would be more important for me than the particular questions I investigated.

A Summer in the Lab – Approaching Science in a New Way

- written by Natalie Deuitch

“What are you doing this summer?”

“Oh, just working in a lab… you know…”

I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times at parties, family gatherings, you name it. Last year I spent the summer and fall semester globetrotting in cool and exotic places, and people were super interested.

This year I’m spending the summer in a lab in hot, “boring” Chapel Hill. People take one look at my project title, “Exploring the relationship between proteins Axin and APC in the Canonical Wnt Signaling Pathway” and seem….underwhelmed. It seems as if they want to be excited for me, but science is a foreign language to most average Joes. Even fellow biologists probably don’t know enough about Wnt Signaling to get really revved up about my proteins.

Morehead Labs, where many on-campus science labs and research experiments are conducted.

What doesn’t seem to get transmitted in these conversations is that I have been in love with every second of this summer.

Yes, I have had to run the same experiment practically a million times. And yes, my lab does smell a little bit like rotting fruit fly corpses. Still, this summer, science clicked. Maybe it didn’t click like switching on a light, more like turning up a dimmer (is that a thing?). But without an intense and busy routine of classes and exams I can think, focus, go home and really digest what I learned in lab. Then I get to come back with a plan to attack science and make it better. I’ve been running experiments from step one all the way through to the finish–during the school year just I put bits and pieces together, as if science is some cooking show with prepped ingredients, waiting for someone to put them together.

This summer I’m gaining the skills to make a plan and carry it through. I’m gaining the confidence to correct or question my mentor when she gets something wrong, for a change. I’m gaining the curiosity to keep asking good questions—endlessly. These things will help me both to fight colon cancer (because yes, that’s something you can do in a lab) and to take on life, even outside the realm of science.

And, I found something this summer. I collected data that nobody has ever found before. I’ve run experiments that no one has ever done before. And one day, as small as it may be, my data will help someone who’s sick. It’s the research that comes from thousands of people spending their summers (and springs, falls and winters) in labs that changes our world.

So don’t even think for a second that working in a lab isn’t as cool as backpacking through Europe. Because it is! Actually, it’s way cooler.

And after a little while you even get used to the smell of fruit flies.

Graduate Student Spotlight – Learning How to Think Like a Scientist

- written by Brandon Santiago, Analytical Chemistry graduate student

Mentorship, of all things, was not something I expected to be involved in when I became a graduate student in Analytical Chemistry. However, I stand here today having spent the past year working with and mentoring Jesus Martinez, an undergraduate chemistry major at UNC. Originally we were paired up through the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART) program, and we’ve continued working together due to his desire to carry on lab work. During our time together, we’ve worked to develop research projects. Though the data from our research projects are definitely at the forefront of our work, I believe the research skills Jesus has developed are far more important for his long-term success, and I am thrilled to have played a part in this.

Part of the work our lab completes is the development and characterization of ionization sources for use with mass spectrometry. In short, mass spectrometers are able to determine the mass-to-charge ratio of molecules, but in order to do this we need to get either a positive or negative charge onto the molecule. One way to add this charge, thus forming an ion, is to use low temperature plasma (LTP). This is a relatively new technique, and Jesus has spent the better part of the last year working to further develop and characterize a LTP ionization source we have in our lab.


A low temperature plasma (LTP) probe.

Developing and characterizing may sound very straightforward, but in all honesty, that is not the case. The development of new techniques involves a lot of head scratching, note taking, troubleshooting, and wondering what changed from yesterday to today. I think that the ability to do these things in a logical and efficient manner are the most important things a graduate mentor can pass along to the undergraduate they are working with. The beauty of our research is that I don’t always have the answer to what is going wrong. Jesus is initially on his own to propose a solution. He’ll be a graduate student himself in the near future, and the experience he has gained searching for creative solutions or looking for inconsistencies will help him in all future endeavors.

The opportunities I try to create for the students I mentor are derived from my own undergraduate level research experience. I was given the opportunity to think for myself, make mistakes, and learn from them. In my own practice, this process involves working together to develop a plan of attack, and then having a hands-off approach to let the student take over. By giving Jesus room to work and problem solve, he’s getting more out of the experience than a section on his resume. I truly believe he’s developing a set of skills that will be applicable to any field he chooses to enter. The beauty of programs like SMART is that undergraduates get to supplement their studies with a hands-on experience that is unlike anything that you can learn from a textbook. At the same time, it is a worthwhile experience for mentors as well, as they can use their knowledge to have a meaningful impact on another student’s future.

To find out more about the SMART program, click here.

Research in Oral History: LGBTQ Activism in the NC Triangle Area

-written by Aaron Lovett, History and Communication Studies, Class of 2017

-editor Monica Richard

Before coming to UNC last fall, I thought research was something only done in the physical and life sciences. So when I heard about undergraduate research, I imagined chemistry and biology majors spending all day in a lab, manipulating a plethora of confusing technical instruments, wearing huge goggles and white lab coats, examining bacteria, and conducting experiments on mice.

Ian Palmquist Photo source:

Ian Palmquist

That was not at all where my interests were. But during my first semester at UNC, I took a research-exposure first-year seminar in history, and through that course realized that research could be done in any subject. After hearing about UNC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), I decided I wanted to apply for the chance to conduct research of my own.

As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community, I wanted to learn more about being queer in the Southeast United States, an environment historically hostile to queer people. Throughout American history, people who are now collectively identified as LGBTQ have been branded as deviant, ignored, and hated.

Alexis Gumbs Photo source:

Alexis Gumbs

Religious fundamentalism and social conservatism in the South have exacerbated this issue. Making matters worse, there is a slim amount of studies and literature on LGBTQ topics in general, let alone LGBTQ issues in the south.

However, through the Southern Oral History Program at Chapel Hill, I learned that oral history was a valuable method for learning about oppressed groups of people whose history is not thoroughly documented in official texts. So, I began an oral history project on LGBTQ activism in the Triangle area, to learn about queer history firsthand from people who have devoted their lives to shaping it. My second semester at UNC, I received the Pine Tree Fund SURF for research in LGBT Studies to fund my research.

For the project, I interviewed hardworking local activists such as Ian Palmquist, Alexis Gumbs, and Carlton Rutherford. Ian Palmquist, a UNC alumnus, is the former Executive Director of Equality NC, a statewide LGBTQ political action committee, and currently works at Equality Federation, a nationwide advocacy organization.

Pastor Carlton Rutherford Photo source:

PR Carlton Rutherford

As an experienced lobbyist and political activist, he offered valuable insight into how various progressive lobbying groups helped pass the NC School Violence Prevention Act in 2009, the first law in North Carolina history to include the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity,” and the first piece of legislation in the South to include the phrase “gender identity.” Carlton Rutherford has been a pastor for several years at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, which offers an all-inclusive space for religious members of the LGBTQ community. His experiences as a gay man of color and clergy member brings to light the many intersecting identities of LGBTQ people. Alexis Gumbs is a queer feminist activist whose work documents the histories of queer black elders; she received her PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and is a widely published writer on LGBTQ topics. Younger than most of the activists I interviewed, she was able to not only add a queer woman of color’s perspective on LGBTQ activism, but also represent a newer generation of progressive activists.

My research experience taught me two critical things. First, that there are people from myriad and diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups, who share many of my past experiences. The ability to speak to and learn from them has been invaluable. Second, not all learning happens in the classroom – rather, some of the most valuable knowledge is gained through personal experience. There is so much you can learn by going out into the world and actually finding knowledge, archiving it, and reflecting upon it. And this process of retrieval, documentation, and analysis benefits not only the individual researcher, but the community they are a part of as well.

Faculty Mentor Spotlight – Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, D.D.S, Ph.D.

-Written by Daijha Copeland

-Edited by Monica Richard

Meet Dr. Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, a native of Chicago, an associate professor, dentist, researcher, and mentor. Frazier-Bowers came to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1993.

As a child, Frazier-Bowers visits to her dentist inspired her to pursue dentistry.

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Frazier-Bowers said, “For better or worse, I visited my dentist often so the comfort and ease I felt during my visits soon turned into intrigue. I later realized that unlike some health professional fields, the dentist seemed to be very solution-oriented and definitive in dealing with patients’ dental needs.”

In high school, Frazier-Bowers enrolled in the Chicago Health and Medical Careers Pre College Program. During the program, the ins and outs of the health profession and biomedical research were introduced to Frazier-Bowers, sparking an interest in research that never left her. Frazier-Bowers received her undergraduate degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but worked for a year in research and development before continuing her journey in to the dental profession. While attending dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Frazier-Bowers was actively involved in the research projects of her professors. Serendipitously, she opened a flier in the mail about a fellowship program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (formerly National Institute of Dental Research) summer fellowship, applied and was accepted.

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

The experience was transformative. During the fellowship, Frazier-Bowers got the opportunity to listen to guest speakers who gave glimpses into their scientific work and medical practices. Frazier-Bowers said, “I was completely captivated by this environment of scientists.” It was during these talks that Frazier-Bowers realized that most of the problems and anomalies that patients face arise from facial proportions, which are largely inherited. It was obvious that these anomalies had a genetic route. Dr. Frazier-Bowers believed that by knowing what these genetic processes were a more holistic perspective could be given to patients’ conditions and their care could be improved.

Frazier-Bowers sought out a National Institute of Health training grant that would allow her to obtain a specialty in her field and pursue a PhD. Finding such a program at UNC-Chapel Hill, Frazier-Bowers packed her bags and moved to North Carolina. Obtaining a certificate in orthodontics and her PhD in genetics and molecular biology, focused and motivated, it was not long before Frazier-Bowers became an associate professor at the UNC School of Dentistry, where she now conducts her own research.

The Frazier-Bowers story does not end here. It is at UNC that Frazier-Bowers experienced a great need to “give back” in respect to all of the great mentors she had along the way. Frazier-Bowers believes that, “A mentor can help students combat the negatives in life, whether inside or outside of the lab or classroom, and draw inspiration from their experiences which can help them improve and succeed.”

When asked about the most challenging moments of mentoring students, Frazier-Bowers said, “There seems to always be a scheduling conflict. It is hard to ensure one-on-one time…That one-on-one time is crucial to the mentoring process.” But beyond the challenges, it is the energy and excitement about the science that young mentees bring into the lab that Frazier-Bowers enjoys most. Frazier-Bowers said, “Having that presence produces a spirited atmosphere that nurtures the ultimate goal – creating new knowledge – a product, I enjoy seeing come to life.”



From Miami to Chapel Hill – One SMART-T Alumna’s journey

-written by Virginia Perello B.A. Chemistry 2014

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

I am a Latina and a Cuban immigrant, raised in Chile. I moved to the United States in 2006 with my family and the dream of being the first woman in my family to become a doctor. After graduating from the two-year Honors College at Miami Dade College, I decided to continue my education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for all of the incredible research opportunities it has to offer. This decision forced me to look beyond what had become familiar, my home state of Florida, and move to North Carolina. At UNC, I grew not only academically, but also on a personal level. I found the classes to be much more challenging and demanding than in my prior school, but I believe that the experience made me a better student. Along with adjusting to UNC’s demanding atmosphere, I gained a greater sense of inquiry and desire to do more outside of the classroom.

After searching for research opportunities both online and through conversations with professors, and getting nowhere, I received an unexpected email stating I had been recommended to participate in the Science and Math Achievement Resourcefulness Track for Transfer students (SMART-T) program. I was immediately drawn to investigate what the program was about, as I had never heard of it before. The more I read about it, the more eager I was to apply. I submitted my application to Dr. Gidi Shemer, SMART Program Director, who paired me with Dr. Mike Kulis. Dr. Kulis is a Research Assistant Professor in the department of Pediatrics. This was a good match for me, because my ultimate goal was to become a pediatrician and work with Doctors Without Borders.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Dr. Kulis worked in the Food Allergy Lab, which gave me the opportunity to contribute to the research on immunotherapy for food allergies. This research assesses whether or not the antibody isotype, IgG, can be a factor of decreasing allergic reaction and prevention of anaphylactic shock. The significance of this project is that it will provide a better understanding of the role of IgG in immunotherapy for allergic subjects. Thus, it will contribute to the diagnosis and therapy for peanut allergies. The ultimate goal of this project is to assess whether or not histamine release from the basophil is inhibited as a result of IgG, which is directly proportional to peanut allergen exposure over time as a result of immunotherapy. Peanut allergy accounts for the vast majority of life threatening and fatal allergic reactions to foods and affects approximately 3 million Americans and 3.9% of the pediatric population.

Under Dr. Kulis’ mentorship, my SMART-T experience has helped me view the clinical side of medicine from a completely new perspective. Dr. Kulis taught me about important laboratory techniques such as the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) method and provided me with the tools to become a better researcher and future doctor. I was able to see the interconnection between scientific research and individual wellbeing in a healthcare based laboratory, since allergies affect a person’s physical and social welfare. I used to think researchers only worked in a lab and did not have much patient exposure, but I have learned that it is possible to work in a lab setting and still have the essential patient interaction. My summer in the SMART-T program solidified my decision to become a pediatric physician, who is involved in clinical research.

My SMART-T experience has taught me that for anyone thinking that it is too late to get involved in research or think there isn’t enough time, trust me there is a research opportunity out there for you! Summer research fellowships are the perfect programs as they do not get in the way of courses during the regular fall and spring terms and you can apply during any point of your undergraduate career. I highly recommend just taking the time to apply once you find an opportunity that suits you, as I did, because who knows how these opportunities may shape your career goals.divider

Adding Undergraduate Research to your UNC Bucket List

-written by Kirsten Consing B.S. Psychology/ Chemistry minor 2016

Kirsten regular pic

Kirsten Consing

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

It was the summer of 2013. I was selected to be a part of the Illinois Summer Neuroscience Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). My weeklong visit at UIUC was a great introduction to neuroscience research as well as to exploring all that the field had to offer. The program included presentations by neuroscience faculty, laboratory exercises, interactions with graduate and medical students pursuing careers in neuroscience, and tours of the campus and research facilities.One of the students that I had the pleasure of speaking with was a Carolina alumnus currently pursuing his MD/PhD at UIUC. The graduate student shared with me how his undergraduate research experience at UNC led to his work in Illinois. The experiences that I had in Illinois really inspired me to get involved in research, so I had to add conducting research to my Carolina bucket list.

Kirsten uncAfter I left Illinois, I spent the rest of my summer trying to connect with as many researchers on campus as I could before returning to UNC. First, I looked at many department websites for faculty members doing research and their research interests. After making a list of faculty members whose work I was interested in, I emailed them my information and stated why I was interested in their work. It did take time for some faculty to respond, but luckily I found a lab that would take me on as a volunteer.

Under the direction of Audrey Verde, a MD/PhD candidate at UNC, I volunteered with the Cognition & Addiction Biopsychology Laboratory (CABLAB) run by Dr. Charlotte Boettiger. I also had an opportunity to volunteer in the Neuro Image Research Analysis Laboratories (NIRAL) run by Dr. Martin Styner. While working with Audrey, I was exposed to different neuroimaging techniques such as structural magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. As I learned new techniques, I was able to apply what I learned in my classes to the rationale behind each one. Volunteering in the CABLAB and NIRAL, I learned a great deal and truly grew as a student. Dr. Styner witnessed this growth and suggested that I apply for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) through the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR). With Dr. Styner’s help, I composed a research proposal that was soon selected, and I am now spending summer 2014 as a SURF participant!

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Currently, I am working on my very first independent research project at the NIRAL lab with Dr. Styner. My project is titled, “Analysis of Subcortical Structures in Infants with High Familial Risk for Autism.” I am focusing on the examination of subcortical structures in the brain across infants at 12 and 24 months with high familial risk for autism via 3D structural statistical shape analysis. I am proud of all the effort that I have put forth this summer and cannot wait to see the results of my project!

My advice, to any undergraduate student who is unsure of whether or not to do research at Carolina, is to really try it and stick with it for at least a semester. Ask other undergraduate students, especially upperclassmen, about their experiences and take advantage of the OUR website to really start off on the right foot. At the beginning, finding a research opportunity may seem daunting, but I find that pursuing research is something that one should definitely include on the Carolina bucket list, along with rushing Franklin Street, participating at Holi Moli, etc…divider