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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Undergrads give labs a hand

Some undergraduate students analyze DNA, tumors or enzymes to earn their spending money.

Students working in labs within the Arizona Health Sciences Center are paid to contribute to research projects. Undergraduate students can be found in labs throughout research centers, the BIO5 Institute and the College of Medicine.

“”There’s such a wonderful culture here of including undergraduate research,”” said Carol Bender, director of the Undergraduate Biomedical Research Program.

Research labs focus on a variety of topics including valley fever, chronic pain and cervical cancer. Bender said student lab workers conduct research “”on a question that hasn’t yet been answered.

“”They actually can contribute to the fund of new knowledge.””

Students can find research positions several ways. The Undergraduate Biomedical Research Program matches students with faculty looking for help in their labs. The program has 140 students researching in 43 departments. Students can work in labs for academic credit, an hourly wage or both.

Lily Yu, a molecular and cellular biology and business management junior, found her research position through the program. Yu works in the lab of Carol Gregorio, the head of the department of cell biology and anatomy.

That lab is focused on assessing the function of healthy muscles and muscles with disease. Yu works 15 to 30 hours per week for an hourly wage.

“”But then it’s more rewarding than just that,”” Yu said.

Yu also had the opportunity to work on similar research in Germany this summer through the Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open! program.

“”I’ve seen research from all angles,”” she said.

Students can also find research opportunities by contacting professors directly.

Chemical engineering senior Michelle Benson has worked in the lab of Marty Pagel, associate professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry, for several weeks. The lab is focused on finding the molecular composition of tumors.

“”I first heard about his research in class,”” Benson said. “”I wanted to get more into the biomedical imaging.””

Benson’s duties in the lab include looking at tumors on mice and analyzing data. The lab is located in the Arizona Cancer Center.

“”It’s advantageous because I get to work more in the medical area,”” said Benson, who plans on going to medical school after graduation.

Many student researchers use their time in the lab to expand upon concepts learned in the classroom.

“”You can’t really compare the two,”” Benson said. “”There’s really no application yet (in class) that’s hands-on.””

Undergraduate researchers have the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty. This mentorship can give a student insight into possible careers and is helpful when looking for recommendations.

“”It’s been great to talk to Carol (Gregorio) and see the enthusiasm she carries,”” Yu said.

Benson said Pagel has been a useful resource.

“”It’s a huge help because they’re right here on campus,”” Benson said. “”They can help you with anything, even coursework.””

Professors value undergraduate researchers even if they have little experience.

“”The undergraduates are a really important part of the team. We appreciate their involvement,”” said Anne Cress, deputy dean of research and academic affairs for the College of Medicine.

Sometimes a lack of knowledge can be an asset. Cress said professors can become so deeply involved in a project that a new outlook is beneficial.

“”It takes the undergrad to come and say, ‘Why are we doing this?'”” Cress said. “”It also brings a fresh perspective to the experience.””

Professors also enjoy sharing their research with younger students.

“”It’s so much fun to watch students like Lily (Yu) come in with almost no background and develop into really good scientists,”” Gregorio said. “”It’s not just about the science that we do. It’s the whole process of educational research.””

Pagel said he enjoys working with students in his lab.

“”That’s part of the reason we enjoy the job that we have,”” Pagel said. “”It’s fun to be part of a really dynamic community.””

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