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