CURCA Research Ambassador Story: Jojo Nguyen

Posted by CURCA on February 27, 2018 in News & Announcements

When and how did you first become involved with an undergraduate research project?

I got involved in my first lab by emailing a neurology professor who posted a project on the CURCA website to recruit students. My advice on taking this route is be patient and keep trying as it will take quite a few attempts. For my second lab, a graduate student in the chemical-biological engineering department needed help with his research and emailed the undergrads’ listserv. So I responded to that email to apply for the position and I got to work with him on his research.

Describe your undergraduate research position.

I have two projects I am working on. The first one is developing and optimizing radio-frequency coils for magnetic resonance imaging. This project generally involves 3D printing, circuit building, basic programming, and mechanical-electrical engineering related work for optimizing the coils. The second project is largely related to the field of molecular/cellular biology. The big picture of the research project is to study a specific protein with regards to its effect on stem cells differentiation potential. However, my specific duties are assisting with immunostaining, microscopy, histology, image quantification and analysis.

Explain how you obtained a CURCA $500 Undergraduate Research Award and what it was used for. How was the award beneficial to your academic experience at UB?

I obtained the $500 research grant from CURCA for my radio-frequency coil building project. I followed the instructions on CURCA website and gathered the documents needed for application with the help of my research adviser. The application process was straight forward and simple. The grant was used for purchasing materials and instruments needed for the project. Clearly, the grant was helpful to maintain and elaborate my project, which made up a big part of the practical training component in my academic experience at UB.

Describe what it is like working in a lab.

I have different experiences with different labs. However, there are feelings I have in common: amazed by the new things learned, motivated to learn more, and an adrenaline rush when results are achieved. Working in a lab involves a lot of learning, which could be intimidating on top of being a full time student. Also, the tasks assigned to an undergraduate student are most likely to be basic and repetitive, but this will change as one gained more skills. The lab crews are generally understanding and would be willing to guide undergraduates through their tasks. What is more significant is the opportunity to meet and interact with people who possess the projections of their related disciplines into the far future. It is mind-blowing to hear about some of the principle investigators’ visions on the future of their work.

How has your faculty mentor influenced you?

When working with a faculty mentor, they open my mind to new ways of thinking and give me new perspectives on a subject I would never think of. My mentors are major sources of inspiration on my career choices as well as life decisions.

Have you had the opportunity to present your research project? If so, please describe that experience.

Yes, I presented at UB’s Annual Celebration of Student Academic Excellence in 2017 (and will most likely present in 2018 as well). I was specifically interested to see what other undergraduates are working on at UB, and that was the ideal opportunity to do so. Personally it was also an opportunity to reinforce my knowledge on the project I presented, because I had to not only understand the material thoroughly but also be able to present it in such a way that everyone in any field would be able to understand.

How has/will this opportunity benefit you academically and/or professionally?

Being able to communicate my project to a broad audience was a much needed skill. This opportunity was good practice for me. Moreover, I got connected to a few other undergraduates who were also doing research at UB, which could be argued for learning networking skills, or just simply making more friends.

Additional details about Jojo’s projects can be found here.