SMART Program Alumna Spotlight

-written by Lauren Askew B.S. Biology 2016

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

When I started my first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill, undergraduate research or a research-related career had never crossed my mind. However, once I decided that I wanted to go to medical school my focus changed. I quickly discovered that it would be helpful to have some lab experience, so I found a research opportunity in Dr. Mara Duncan’s cell biology lab. As I gained more skills and summer approached, Dr. Duncan suggested that I apply for the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART) summer research program. I was accepted into the 8-week program. I remember being both nervous and excited. Each week I spent about 40 hours in the lab and attended 3 meetings: lab meeting, a larger lab meeting with other labs, and a program meeting. I gave two presentations weekly and thus gained confidence in presenting scientific data. The first few weeks of the program were difficult because I was afraid to ask questions. I feared that lab members would think poorly of me. One day a graduate student took me under his wing and encouraged me to ask questions about my project and the projects of other lab members. I acted on the graduate student’s advice and my overall performance in the lab lead to an opportunity to do independent research my sophomore year.


LB+ Ampicillin bacterial plate with DamLmnB transformed colonies.

I did research on autophagy in yeast and how it can be initiated during the summer and the following school year. Early in the school year though, I transitioned to a biochemistry lab, and gained a new prospective on the work that I had previously conducted.

During the summer, working in a lab every day was straightforward. Research was my sole responsibility. I found during the school year that conducting research was far more difficult. Expectations were higher and time management was crucial when working with longer experiments. And then there was school work, and other obligations. By the end of my sophomore year, I better understood my capacity, stopped spreading myself so thin, and could better schedule experiments and extracurricular activities.

Lauren Askew before her journal club meeting during her Summer Internship Program (SIP) and John's Hopkins.

Lauren Askew during her Summer Internship Program (SIP) at John’s Hopkins.

Currently, I am doing research at Johns Hopkins for 10 weeks through their Summer Internship Program (SIP). My research is on Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes delayed developmental growth and is characterized by premature rapid aging of the face in early childhood. The goal of my project is to find novel interactions between Zmpste24, a gene that codes for a post-translational enzyme, and other regulatory proteins proven to be involved in premature aging syndromes. The research involves working with mammalian cells and performing a lot of cloning, both of which are new to me.

Getting involved in research has changed my career plans significantly. Instead of pursuing the M.D. path, I plan to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree in infectious diseases. Although it is possible to do research as an M.D., I want to gain the research skills provided by a doctoral degree to reach my maximum potential as a medical researcher. My research experiences have also made me more interested in academia in the future. I had amazing mentors, who have constantly encouraged me and helped me strive towards excellence. Using the mentoring techniques I gained from my mentors, I have been able to help fellow students in their research projects. I find joy in sharing my knowledge with others and would definitely like to make mentoring others a part of my career.divider

“When One Teaches, Two Learn”

-written by Rob Uche Onyenwoke

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

My career in the sciences began at the University of Georgia in Athens, where I received a B.S. in Biology and conducted an honors thesis involving an evolutionary analysis of microbial tRNAs (transfer RNAs). From working on my senior thesis with my mentor Prof. William B. Whitman, I garnered an interest in microbiology and decided to stay on and pursue a Ph.D. I focused my studies in the areas of performing biochemical and microbial analyses of oxidoreductase enzymes and microbial metabolism and performing microscopy. One of my fondest memories of this time was due to my mentor, Prof. Juergen Wiegel, who helped me through the trying time of completing my Ph.D dissertation. Prof. Wiegel was the epitome of a great mentor and working with him led me to serve as an instructor of microbiology and later a teaching fellow during the final year of my Ph.D. work.

While completing my Ph.D., I spent a significant amount of my time as a researcher and teacher, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in my respective departments. Having had a fantastic mentor, like Prof. Wiegel, I was eager to guide and counsel younger researchers through their journey. Based upon my own experiences, I learned to view mentoring as very important work.

I accepted a post-doctorate fellowship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after completing my teaching fellowship and Ph.D. work. UNC gave me the opportunity to work with Prof. Jay Brenman in the Neuroscience Center and Lineberger Cancer Center studying and identifying novel metabolic targets involved in the progression of diabetes and cancer/neuroblastoma. Soon I began developing my own areas of research and went on to further characterize a calcium channel intimately involved with metabolic disease using high-content imaging.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype. Images from: Swick, L. , & Kazgan, N. , & Onyenwoke, R. U., & Brenman, J. E. (2013). Isolation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) alleles required for neuronal maintenance in Drosophila melanogaster.. Biology Open, 1321-1323.

Dr. Brenman on occasion also served as a faculty mentor to a program offered at UNC called the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track program (SMART). I participated as a mentor. The SMART program paired undergraduates with mentors. Students were expected to commit a minimum of 30 hours a week during the summer to complete a research project. Thanh Bui (B.A. Chemistry ’14) was my mentee last summer. I helped her navigate the ins and outs of the lab in order to complete her project examining the relationship between the enzyme AMPK, gene TRPML1, and the target of rapamycin complex 1 (TORC1) pathway. I am proud to say that we have plans to include her work in a revised manuscript to be submitted to the journal Science Signaling. Bui will begin her graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Pharmacy in the fall.

Dr. Rob Uche Onyenwoke is an independent Principal Investigator with the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE), a part of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham as a Research Assistant Professor/Core Facility Manager. NCCU’s BRITE is primarily a training institute and seeks to mentor and train the next generation of scientists.divider

The Methods of your Research Madness

-written by Daijha J. Copeland

OUR - Graham Memorial

OUR – Graham Memorial

This past spring, the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR) petitioned the University’s Education Policy Committee to request a course expansion for its Carolina Research Scholar Program (CRSP). The expansion includes UNC research methods courses, which are courses that teach the techniques and tools that scholars use to ask and pursue research questions. Students new to research can take courses to learn the methods involved in asking questions within their discipline, and students already involved in research have an avenue to better tailor the tools used to conduct their own original projects.

Dr. Krista Perreira, OUR Director and Associate Dean said, “For many disciplines or majors, students must learn fundamental research methods or techniques to pursue more intensive research activities.  We wanted to provide Carolina Research Scholars with the opportunity to receive recognition for developing their skills in research techniques appropriate for their discipline.  Though some courses may be listed as both research-intensive courses and research methods courses, we anticipate that this change will expand the number of course options available to students who want to become research scholars.”

from: Communication Currents vol. 7 issue 4

from: Communication Currents vol. 7 issue 4

As early as June 2014, UNC-Chapel Hill students pursuing the Carolina Research Scholar designation will have more choices for meeting the program’s course requirements, which previously included completing one multidisciplinary course, at least two research-intensive courses, and presenting one’s research to a public audience. The expansion means that students can now pair a methods course with a research-intensive course to meet the requirements listed on the CRSP page.

Students can now begin receiving credit for methods courses such as CLAR 411: Archaeology Field Methods, AMST 202: Approaches to American Studies, and BIOL 452: Mathematical and Computational Models in Biology.  For a full list of research methods courses check-out the database of research methods courses.  Keep a look out for the addition of more research methods courses in the fall.

CRSP was developed to enable students to pursue individual research tracks within a curriculum, build an undergraduate community based on research, and then for students to receive formal acknowledgement. Currently there are over 1300 registrants pursuing the CRS designation and 245 students have received the designation as of January 2014.  Carolina Research Scholars have gone on to participate UNC’s research community by serving as peer advisors offering support to students preparing research proposals; student representatives introducing UNC research opportunities through their own experiences to new students at Orientation; and as student government representatives developing specific programs to promote and support undergraduate research.  Learn how you can become a part of this influential community by visiting the CRSP page. divider

Irish Flute-ing

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

-written by Kieran McCarthy Fell class of 2013

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

As a flute performance major, I am passionate about participating in and hearing music from around the world. One of the most gratifying aspects of musical performances is creating a bridge of communication between people of different cultures. Though most of my training and studies have been in the classical settings of symphonies, wind ensembles, and orchestra pits, I am always eager to absorb musical influences from new sources, like my recent experience with the indigenous music of Ireland.

This past summer, I received funding for a research proposal that allowed me to visit a few regions in Ireland to hear a variety of performances in Irish settings such as local public houses and community centers.  There were also festivals to attend throughout the year, like the Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan at the University of Limerick, which encourages the preservation of heritage. By interacting with the musicians in these environments, I hoped to discover whether or not inflection, embellishment, and dramatic interpretation of traditional (trad) tunes vary from region to region, as dialects do, and what Irish flute technique and interpretation has in common with classical performance.

Through my training and practicing I learned that the most integral aspects of Irish trad music are: (1) understanding the specific time signature end feel of each tune type; the steady, fast 4-4 drive of the reel, the quick 6-8 lit of the jig, and the bouncy hornpipe, and (2) learning the unique ornamentations and including them in tunes spontaneously throughout a session. In traveling to several counties in Ireland, I learned that musical differences between regions have more to do with the types of tunes played than the embellishments used. Reels, Jigs, and hornpipes are frequently heard in most places, but in counties like Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, the most common types of tunes are slides and polkas.  Regarding ornamentations, the basic types are consistent between regions, yet vary from player to player as part of the musician’s individual style.  Because of the impromptu nature of trad music, the selected ornamentations that are added are different every time a tune is played.

Reel Tune

Jig Tune

Hornpipe Tune

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

Due to the variety of differences in playing techniques, my research did not result in a concrete way to link classical and traditional flute playing.  However, my time immersed in trad music and Irish culture made me fully aware of how powerful music is, despite its apparent simplicity.  The intuition and originality of each individual musician produced a vital, sparkling, almost tangible music characterized by a sense of joy and abandon in the quick tunes that contrasts with the achingly, compelling depth of the slow airs.

Irish music is not tied to the classical concert hall, but is deeply intertwined with daily life in close-knit communities.  Trad tunes and instrumental accompaniment for dancing, singing, and storytelling have been passed down through generations in homes, community centers, churches, public houses, and festivals.  It was through these public sessions that I truly allowed myself to become swept up in trad music.  The height of my learning of trad music came during the annual Fleadh Nua (“new festival”). The Fleadh Nua helped me understand that taking advantage of every chance to play for someone else, whether in a session or at a competition, is even more integral to learning trad than taking frequent lessons or practicing alone.  Soon I could say that I am a real trad player.

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

Another session during the Fleadh Nua


Kieran McCarthy-Fell is currently a programming and productions intern at the Irish Arts Center, in New York City.

McCarthy-Fell received partial funding through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) offered through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office for Undergraduate Research, the 2013 Witten Travel Award, the Class of 1938 Fellowship Endowment committee, and the Chapel Hill Music Department Mayo Award.


In With the New – OUR Welcomes New Ambassadors

UNC - Chapel Hill with Graham Memorial in the background

The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
with Graham Memorial in the background

-written by Daijha J. Copeland

As nine ambassadors turned their tassels to officially become Carolina alumni in May, we welcome a new group of highly-qualified and enthusiastic undergraduate researchers. With experiences ranging in disciplines from Art History to Biology to Political Science, our new ambassadors offer a diversity of experiences to share with the Carolina community. These ambassadors have worked on timely projects such as: how specific RNA molecules distribute controls the division of zygotes, the role of suicide in the plays of William Shakespeare, further development in C. elegans, and the development of a thermoelectric vaccine cooler. Check out the ambassadors’ page to get to know all of our ambassadors and the other enriching projects that they have been a part of.

The ambassadors program was created for undergraduate researchers to be used as a resource to advocate for undergraduate research to university leaders and to serve as peer mentors. Ambassadors frequently host meet-and-greets with fellow students and give presentations on research opportunities offered through OUR and the greater university. And of course ambassadors are here to provide information, make faculty introductions, or answer any questions, so feel free to contact them for any assistance navigating Carolina’s research filled world.

If you have research experiences that you would like to share with other undergraduates and would like to apply to be an OUR ambassador, look for the call to apply in early spring. Below are the OUR ambassadors for 2014-2015.

Lauren Askew Biology /Spanish for the Medical Professions

Jordan Bishop

Emily Cerciello Health Policy and Management &

Sarah Cooley Geoscience-Geophysics/ Math and Religious Studies

Clark Cunningham Chemistry &

Sarah Faircloth History & Art

Blake Hauser Environmental Health Sciences &

David Joyner Political Science &

Sloane Miller Environmental Health Science &

Rizul Naithani Clinical Laborarory Science/ Chemistry Minor

Layla Quran Global Studies/ Journalism

Sam Resnick Biology/ Chemistry Minor

Jay Zhang Biostatistics & Quantitative Biology/ Chemistry Minor-

Zijian (Larry) Zhou Chemistry/ Computer Science


Alumni Spotlight: Zachary Phillips

-written by Zachary Phillips

The Old Well   The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Old Well
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

My time doing undergraduate research was the highlight of my education at UNC, and has opened up pretty much every opportunity I have had since graduation. I worked in the Optical Coherence Imaging Lab for my final two years on experiments and equipment for new and novel breast cancer imaging methods using Optical Coherence Tomography. When I came to UNC I had no plans to start working on research or even major in engineering, but as I settled on my major I took the recommendation of some older classmates and joined the lab group of one of my professors.

I started off doing basic tasks such as cell culture and some mechanical design under the close supervision of graduate students. This allowed me to get a gradual introduction into a new field, and develop a working relationship with several graduate students who would later become my mentors. My lab work gave me the opportunity to explore many of the things I learned as a Biomedical Engineering major outside of the normal confines of the classroom. As my classes became more advanced and I became more experienced, I started to take on a more autonomous role where I came up with my own problems to solve in the context of our research. While at UNC I learned that doing research is hardly ever easy, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things I’d ever done.

My senior year I set out to design and build a small-scale cellular incubator for use with our OCT system. I designed the mechanical shell, the control circuit, and the software for the microcontroller. This device has allowed our lab to image samples over a long period of time without the risk of contamination or mechanical stress due to dehydration. I wrote a senior honors thesis about the design and functionality of the incubator and was fortunate to graduate with Highest Honors. This project directly led to two job opportunities after graduation and was a major learning experience moving forward. This project taught me how to think like an engineer as well as a scientist and gave me a better appreciation of working on the intersection of several fields.

I currently work as a full time Associate in Research in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. at Duke University, designing and building gigapixel cameras for defense applications. My research experience at UNC was crucial to my successes in the past year and has opened up many opportunities that I would otherwise have never known about. I have recently been accepted to several Ph.D. engineering programs and would attribute this directly to my experience doing undergraduate research at UNC.divider

Congratulations to our 2014 Summer SURF Recipients!

Congratulations to our 2014 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) award recipients! The competition for the awards was fierce this year as 195 undergraduates submitted research proposals for review. After a grueling evaluation process, our multidisciplinary committee awarded 74 SURFs to undergraduate students.

The SURF program attracts a variety of students, from the novice researcher looking to discover something new to the student preparing for their honors thesis. A wide range of projects are fostered by the program. The 2014 selected project titles include: “Structured Space: How to Organize an Archaic Greek City,” “21st Century Carbonylation: Employment of the Hieber Anion,” “Understanding the Cross-Generational Voices and Culinary Culture of Women in Northern Morocco,” and “Evaluation of Novel Small Molecules as Therapeutic Anticoagulants.”

Each SURF recipient will engage in undergraduate research, scholarship or performance for at least 9 weeks, with a minimum of 20 hours per week, between May 13, 2014 and August 16, 2014. Projects will be supervised by a faculty research advisor, and collaborations with graduate students or postdoctoral fellows are encouraged. To learn more about the SURF program and the application process, please visit here.

Olivia Abrecht, American Studies

Samantha Asofsky, Psychology

Benjamin Badger, Biology

Sarah Jane Bassett, Chemistry

Cenk Baykal, Computer Science

Connor Belson, Biology

Anuradha Bhowmik, Women’s Studies

Sarah Bird, Health

Environmental Sciences & Engineering

Olivia Branscum, Philosophy

Eleanor Brightbill, Chemistry

Lindsey Broadwell, Chemistry

Alexander Brown, Biology

Andrew Cabaniss, Classics

Diego Camposeco, Art

Taylor Comte, Applied Sciences

Ashley Conrad, Biology

Kirsten Consing, Psychology

Abigail Cooksey, History

Caroline deSaussure, Psychology

Natalie Deuitch, Biology

Luma Essaid, Nutrition

Adrianna Grace Farson, Communication Studies

Alex Flores, Chemistry

Tsion Ghedamu, Public Policy

Megan Hynek, Archaeology

Crystal Ibe, Psychology

Chloe Imus, Romance Languages

Karina Javalkar, Health Policy & Administration

Catherine Keller, Biology

Emily Kowalczyk, History

Amanda Kramer, Health

Environmental Sciences & Engineering

Jack Largess, Geography

Michael Lebhar, Applied Sciences

Kayla Leonard, History

Emily Lobos, Psychology

Aaron Lovett, History

Jesus Martinez Alvarado, Chemistry

Teresa Martz, Biology

Meredith McCliment, Exercise & Sport Science

Raleigh McCoy, Public Policy

Sarah McShane, Chemistry

Sean McWeeny, Psychology

Christine Nam, Biology

Arjun Padalia, Chemistry

Akash Patlolla, Biology

Claire Pauley, Psychology

Heyman Peraza, Clinical Laboratory Science

Antonio Porras, Mathematics

Edward Pruette, Religous Studies

Christopher Register, Philosophy

Bret Robinson, Nutrition

Andrew Ross, Chemistry

Frances Schick, Global Studies

Amanda Sergesketter, Biology

Yihui Sheng, Mathematical Decision Science

Courtney Shepard, Anthropology

Nancy Smith, Asian Studies

Andrew Soboeiro, History

Emily Stroobant, Chemistry

Hillary Stroud, American Studies

Amanda Sutter, Geology

Maura Thornton, Biology

Keren Tseytlin, Mathematical Decision Science

Nikhil Umesh, Health

Environmental Sciences & Engineering

Madelyn Usher, Political Science

Alissa Vanderlinden, Biology

Isaac Warshauer, Archaeology

Julia Whitley, Biology

Julian Willett, Chemistry

Yue Yang, Sociology

Chang Zhao, Anthropology

Zijian Zhou, Chemistry

Fareeda Zikry, Global Studies

OUR Announces the 2014 Celebration of Undergraduate Research Contest Winners!

The Celebration of Undergraduate Research Poster Session

The Celebration of Undergraduate Research Poster Session

The 15th annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research was held on April 14th. Students were able to share their research experiences through their posters and platform presentations. The celebration was completely interactive as there were floods of posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with #UNCCUR14. It was surely an incredible event! Not only were remarkable and inspiring undergraduate research projects displayed for all attendants to view, they were also busy participating in one of our handful of lively contests to win prizes.

Sarah Bradford, Biology (Class of 2014), won the second annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research Bingo drawing! She will receive a prize pack filled with goodies, valued $200+ including tickets from PlayMakers Repertory Company. Sam Resnick, Biology and Chemistry (Class of 2015), won our second Media Challenge. He will receive $75+ including a $25 gift certificate to Fitzgerald’s–Chapel Hill.

During the Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium attendees voted for the most popular poster. The 2014 Poster Winners are: Christopher Rota, Biology and Economics (Class of 2014), Michael Parrish, Biology and Psychology (Class of 2015 ), and Elizabeth Sherling (Class of 2014) Exercise and Sport Science and Communication Studies. Winning posters will be displayed in the Undergraduate Library on a rotating basis throughout the 2014-2015 academic year.

The Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium, an annual event held in April, is co-sponsored by the Office for Undergraduate Research and the Roosevelt Institute. The symposium showcases and encourages meaningful research in all disciplines by undergraduates at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Sam Resnick, Michael Parrish, and Christopher Rota

Michael Parrish

Sam Resnick

Sam Resnick

Christopher Rota

Christopher Rota




Reading, Writing, and Undergraduate Research: Sustaining my College Education

Written by Dillon Crockett, a graduating senior and a Comparative Literature and Biology major

It is easy for me to proclaim that my experiences in research have defined my undergraduate education.

I am reminded of when Dr. Jan Koelb, one of my esteemed research advisors, expressed to me one day that “everything is education.” The all-encompassing quality of this claim initially gave me pause. How can everything be education? “That has to be an overstatement,” I thought privately at the time. However, several semesters later, not only do I now fully believe this to be true, but I even think this dictum could be modified to assert that “everything is research.” All of my experiences as an undergraduate have not only been educational, but they have also been engagements in research, formally and informally.

During my four years at Carolina, I took advantage of a wide variety of opportunities available for undergraduate research, a number of which are already advertised on the Office for Undergraduate Research website.

I took major-specific courses in research methodology: how do professionals in different disciplines go about doing what it is they do? For my comparative literature major, I took Dr. Rebecka Rutledge Fisher’s CMPL 251 course, an introduction in literary theory, and for my biology major, I took Dr. Pat Pukkila’s BIOL 211 course, an introduction to research in biology. In retrospect, I now see my experiences in each of these courses as being entirely indispensable to my undergraduate education in these two fields. Had I not explicitly explored the various approaches to reading and experiencing texts, or been specifically guided through the process of understanding experimental design and scientific literacy, I would see myself as severely lacking in my abilities to function within these disciplines. I cannot imagine myself being as satisfied with my education within these majors had I not been directly exposed to these discipline-specific research methodologies, and I am boundlessly grateful for these professors’ interests in developing and offering such curricula. Fortunately, similar courses exist in most undergraduate majors, either as their own courses within the bulletin or as special topics courses, and I imagine they would add depth of inquiry to any student’s program.

I also took research-exposure courses that were specifically structured around the generous and insightful assistance of Graduate Research Assistants (GRCs). These included Annah Lee, who served in Dr. Jan Koelb’s CMPL 260 course, Landscapes in Literature and the Arts, and Heath Sledge, who served in Dr. Donna Bickford’s ENGL 444 course, Contemporary American Women Writers. Although research is not a requirement to graduate in any particular major for undergraduates, research is a central requirement for graduate students to complete their programs. Because these skilled individuals—whose current interests lie in being thoroughly engaged in their own research—were inserted into my undergraduate courses, I received irreplaceable one-on-one guidance as I carried out my own research projects. Even more, it was my research from these two courses that I was able to present at the 2013 and 2014 Celebrations of Undergraduate Research, which the Office for Undergraduate Research hosts each spring. There is no rule stipulating that undergraduate research and graduate research are necessarily distinct from each other, or that student research must be inherently separate from faculty research. In fact, the mentorship of faculty and graduate students is important for undergraduate researchers, and the ideas of undergrads often enrich the projects of faculty and graduate students. Research is research, regardless of who is conducting it, where they are conducting it, or how they are conducting it. Collaboration is a mutually-beneficial practice essential to research on all scales and on all levels, and engaging in it early on, even through a course with a GRC, can be deeply enriching.

While these courses specifically included undergraduate research components, much actual research occurs outside of the classroom. I was chosen to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute internship for Future Teachers,  which provides time and funding for undergraduates to conduct research projects over the summer. In this particular program, which is directed by the fabulous Dr. Jennifer Coble, students integrate professional research in biology with developing biology curricula at the high school and college level. The final step in the research process for any investigation—communicating your results—is the means by which any research can have broader impacts on the scholastic and public community. If you define research as the process by which an individual can expand the limits of human knowledge on a particular issue, then your research is only relevant when you devise a way to carry people through the new intellectual spaces you create. Developing curriculum modules, preparing an oral presentation, organizing a professional poster, or hosting a demonstration or performance are all valuable ways of conveying information to a broader audience.

Although there are benefits to engaging in such discipline-specific projects, I am not a staunch advocate for embedding oneself within the conventions of a single discipline. In fact I would advocate for the exact opposite; to do otherwise would be severely hypocritical considering the interdisciplinary project with which I have been working for the past year. Dr. Rachel Willis, a social scientist by training, is currently researching the effects of climate change—an (albeit, anthropogenic) natural phenomenon. She and I are not unlike in this way: I entered Carolina with the expressed purpose of majoring in a field on each side of the arts/sciences divide. Knowing that both the arts and the sciences are obligatory components of K-12 curricula, I thought each discipline must have some particularly useful skill set for me to pursue in my college education. Now that I am a graduating senior, I understand even better now how little difference there is in the methodology of these two disciplines. Sure, comparative literature and biology each ask somewhat different questions, and each goes about somewhat different means to answer those questions. However, each discipline does establish questions, study the extent to which other scholars have approached those questions, formulate hypotheses, generate a procedure to collect data, analyze their results and find a way to communicate their results to others. Indeed, I am sure that this is the intention behind the interdisciplinary design of OUR’s IDST 194 Modes of Inquiry course, and even the Celebration for Undergraduate Research, both drawing from the arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Another feature common among the disciplines is the helpfulness of research advisors. Yet while advisors are wonderful resources to have when conducting research projects, it is ultimately up to the individual researcher to develop their independence and their own sense of confidence in their research. Although an advisor is oftentimes capable of providing suggestions for further avenues of inquiry, there is no way that they can replace the sort of lessons and character traits that an undergraduate develops on their own through the process of conducting research. Confidence is one character trait that I found essential throughout my tenure as an undergraduate. Whether I was writing an application essay, or assisting with an experiment, or exploring my own thoughts on an issue—confidence was necessary. Whether I was writing a paper (especially one not required for a course), or asking for feedback and criticism, or standing in front of complete strangers while trying to convince them that my interests and ideas are worthwhile—confidence was required. Even taking my first solo out-of-state journeys this semester to conferences in Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Ohio required confidence that I would otherwise have had no need or opportunity to develop without my undergraduate research experiences.

This characterization of research as a prime opportunity to develop confidence and independence as an undergraduate is closely tied to an understanding of research as a learning strategy. One of the theorists that Dr. Jill Hamm introduces in her EDUC 532 course on adolescent development is Lev Vygotsky, whose theory of proximal development claims that students are only capable of constructing new knowledge if they are provided instructional scaffolding for support as they build upon the knowledge they already have. Although this course is part of a teacher-preparation program, which may not seem research-intensive, it includes field-based research components, such as conducting interviews with teachers and making observations of area classrooms. These assignments were created to allow undergraduates to apply course content to the knowledge they construct for themselves as they complete those assignments, a kind of engaged learning. Any undergraduate beginning their own research project follows a similar pattern: you begin with the knowledge you already have, then you decide upon some question of interest, and then you go about answering that question. Considering Vygotsky’s constructivist view of education, undergraduate research is a fundamentally more effective pedagogy since it leverages prior understandings, abilities, and experiences for students.

Given this understanding of scaffolding, I now realize that I did not procure this confidence out of thin air. I found myself in a very difficult environment during my first semester at Carolina, one that was challenging both academically and socially, and I doubt that my experience was too unique from many of my peers. As first generation college student and a Carolina Covenant scholar, I had certain disadvantages that some other students did not have, but I also had a number of advantages that helped me tremendously. I received unfailing support from several of my professors during that semester, especially Dr. Jim O’Hara, whose help ensured that I remained a Carolina student. Since that unfortunate term, I have more than doubled my first-semester GPA and presented seven different conference papers. Neither of these feats would have been possible without the help of Carolina faculty, who are committed to assisting me in finding opportunities to become interested and involved in undergraduate research. It was not only because I spent hours scouring bibliographies in Davis or the archives in Wilson that my performance and my affect improved; it was the fact that I had established personal, relevant connections between my own interests and those of others—faculty members, fellow undergraduates, graduate students—and not just at Carolina, but at other institutions as well—even Duke (for better or for worse). For the current or future undergraduate researcher, know that despite them seeming intimidating and out-of-reach… conferences are particularly useful for making these connections and for making personal growth in your research.

Of course the avenues of undergraduate research that I have traveled are merely a sampling of the possible routes. Many students conduct senior honors theses, for example, as means of gaining professional research experience. Due to having a GPA below the minimum requirement, and due to having committed my last spring semester to student teaching, I did not complete a senior honors thesis myself. It was unfortunate that certain missteps and choices closed this door for me, but even though that particular means of undergraduate research has certain prerequisite requirements, there is fortunately no minimum GPA for conducting undergraduate research in any of the above paths that I did explore. One closed door does not mean all doors are closed. There is no one in the world with the power to tell you that your interest or your question is a project reserved for seniors with particular GPAs, or for graduate students, or for faculty members. I was able to forge my own path though the boundless world of research opportunities (with the guidance and help of all those mentors cited above, and several more) to find myself leaving Carolina with a bounty of extraordinary experiences. I am extremely fortunate to have found myself in such a positive environment here, which supports undergraduate engagement in research.

Above all, I have learned that failure is okay, and even necessary. Whether you fail an exam or maybe even a class, or whether you take a direction on a project that leads you into a counter-productive rabbit hole, the central purpose of being at an institution like Carolina is to educate yourself. If you fail introductory physics during your first semester of college, that is okay. You may not know much about rotational inertia—yet!—but you should know how to grow from that misstep. Re-take that class. Re-write that paper. Re-do that experiment. Take another look at that problem. Fix your mistakes, and do better. Learn. If I were to speak to an incoming first year student in my former position, I would say that you should know never to give up on yourself or on whatever you find most enjoyable. You should know that if you see yourself doing something, you should clear the path for yourself to do it, without question. You should know that asking is never as painful as remaining uninvolved. Research exists only because people ask questions. If you do not ask that professor to participate in their research now, you never will. Be thankful for the resources that are available to you, and take advantage of them. Know that what matters most is your own education, and it is up to you to take an active role in constructing it.

I took advantage of lots of opportunities here at Carolina. One I missed was enrolling in a class with Dr. Sharon James but, in a brief meeting I had with her one afternoon several semesters ago, I received the best advice I have ever received at Carolina. “Do what you want.” Nothing has reverberated within the decision-making space of my mind as greatly as those four words. Do what you want. Whatever you think your path at Carolina will be, I believe, whether you know it yet or not, what you really want to do is research.

One Lesser Known Gem of the Undergraduate Library (UL)

-written by Mollie McNeil          -edited by Daijha J. Copeland

The Undergraduate Libray

The Undergraduate Libray

If you have ever spent time wandering around the UL looking for a free table or just stretching your legs, you may have come across the second floor display case. The display case, erected to not only separate study space, it also houses undergraduate research projects from UNC-Chapel Hill undergrads. I know what you’re thinking: “I have too much work to do to spend time at a display case!!!” However, the projects featured in this case are hand-picked and the display can give you valuable insight to undergraduate research.

Each year at the Celebration of Undergraduate Research, students present their research to the UNC- Chapel Hill community. For undergraduates, this celebration is a great time to publicize and share their research, whether in a talk or poster format.  At the end of the symposium attendees vote on the best poster, taking into account both professional and artistic appeal.The winning posters are then put on display for one month each for the upcoming academic year. These projects are not only hand-picked for their widespread appeal; they provide a wide-ranging illustration of the endless possibilities of undergraduate research.

The Celebration for Undergraduate Research Poster Winner Display Case

The Celebration for Undergraduate Research Poster Winner Display Case

These project displays, which are sponsored by the Office for Undergraduate Research, can help you find inspiration to conduct your own research. The posters come from a variety of disciplines and are a true testament to the multitudinal nature of undergraduate research. On top of that, each research poster is accompanied by short student bio and reflection about their research experience.  These reflections give insight to the research process and describe the long-term benefits that undergrads have received from research. The current poster on display is Sherifat Ademola, a Psychology major from the class of 2014.

If you want to see what your peers are doing in research, learn more about the process, or be productive while taking a study break, check out these displays. Further, If you would like to see a wider range of current projects, consider attending the 15th annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research, Monday, April 14, from 1-3:15pm, at Franklin Porter Graham Student Union, Great Hall.