No Destination Too Far: CSUN BUILD PODER Students Share Their Summer Research Experiences Away From Home

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By Hansook Oh

For many college students who are part of groups underrepresented in the sciences, an opportunity to go away for the summer to do research at a top university might not feel like it’s in the cards. First generation undergraduates may not know about summer research programs and how to apply, and for many of their families, the costs of travel, housing and meals across eight to ten weeks is an impossible one to sponsor.

In defiance of these financial and institutional barriers, California State University, Northridge’s BUILD PODER program provides avenues for its students to expand their horizons, however many thousands of miles away their academic goal posts stand. Read about BUILD PODER scholars’ exciting summer research adventures in the Q&A’s below.


Sara Shatella

Summer Research Site: Princeton University, Molecular Biology Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP).

Research Topic: During the nine weeks I spent at Princeton, I worked in the the lab of Elizabeth Gavis, M.D-Ph.D., and worked closely with a post-doctoral researcher, Matt Niepielko, Ph.D. Our project focused on investigating the relationship between mRNA localization and fertility in drosophila, a type of small fly. We looked at nanos and pgc mRNAs in the female embryo and how their mutations influenced egg-laying and viability.

What was your favorite part about your summer experience?

My favorite part about my experience was getting to network with people from around the nation, including Puerto Rico, New York, Arkansas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and more. I have lived in Los Angeles my entire life, so getting to experience different cultures and traditions through these interactions was a new adventure. I definitely feel like I grew as a person since I was able to broaden my understanding of these diverse cultures over the nine weeks.

What was the most difficult part about your summer experience?

The most difficult part about my summer experience was probably getting situated and adapting to the new lifestyle. Living in California my entire life has made me  comfortable with how things are here, and I forget how different the rest of the nation can be. One challenge for me was overcoming the weather change. I am easily affected by the climate; for example, on a gloomy, rainy day, I feel that my mood is down. Summers in New Jersey are extremely humid and hot—almost every day the humidity is 100 percent—and that really impacted my mood and threw me off most of the time. However, it wasn't too bad since I spent most of my time in the lab. I'm grateful for that experience because I learned a lot about myself that I didn't know before, and now I appreciate the dry heat more than ever.

Did you learn anything new about yourself, your research, the graduate school experience, mentorship, etc?

I learned that when you are looking for a new lab to join, there are several critical factors to consider. Before my summer experience, I thought that the only thing you should care about is the actual research that the lab is conducting--What is the main focus/question? What types of experiments/tools do they use? However, I soon learned that the principal investigator (PI), the lab environment, and the physical geography of the lab are just as important. Ask yourself questions like, “Can you get along with the PI and with your labmates? What does the PI expect of you? Is he/she more independent or do they want you to do things on their terms? To what extent does the weather have an effect on your well-being?” Take all these questions into account because no matter how great the research is, if your other needs are not being met, then you will be miserable. Working in the lab becomes your full-time job and you want to make sure that you are comfortable with every aspect of it. It's crucial to figure out how you like to work, what you like and dislike, etc. to find a lab that best suits you.


Yvette Lugo