The Elaine R. Feldman Summer Research Fellowship is a scholarship offered to WISE RP students in LSA who want to participate in research for the spring/summer terms. Recipients have a research commitment of at least 20-30 hours per week for 10 weeks, and the scholarship is intended to offer financial support in order to so.
Pooja is majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and is spending her summer doing research to understand phylogenetic relationships of Peruvian and Venezuelan species of howler monkeys. She is excited to start off by learning basic molecular techniques and moving towards more advanced skills.
Emily is majoring in Biology and currently working in a lab doing research on Parkinson's disease. They are using genetically modified rats and looking at dopamine receptors to discover more about the disease and potential cures. She is excited to learn to use Matlab and soon conduct her own experiments.
The secret to thrilling discoveries in research is hard work, discipline and collaboration. I was able to realize this through my summer working in Dr. Lozoff’s lab, thanks to the Elaine Feldman Summer Research Fellowship offered by the WISE RP. In the short time I worked in this lab in the Center for Growth and Human Development, I worked with two visiting professors, Dr. Armony-Sivan and Dr. Mai. Quite literally, I lived the life of a researcher. Ultimately, being exposed to ground-breaking research and leaders in the maternal-health field has made me more ambitious and inspired me to become more involved in original scientific research throughout my college career and beyond.
Dr. Lozoff’s lab is investigating the effect of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) in infancy on the brain and behavior. The study is focused on the influence of prenatal and postnatal IDA on the brain and behavior. Dr. Lozoff’s research is special because it is the only longitudinal study to track a single cohort of individuals affected by IDA for 20+ years.
I initially joined Dr. Lozoff’s laboratory as a UROP student last fall, working on a project investigating the effect of IDA on the infant auditory system. My role in that project was specifically to “tag” the auditory waves representing the infants’ auditory response by labeling the peaks and troughs, which, respectively, represented the infant’s reactions to sound stimuli. I used a system called ABR to accomplish this task. This study was conducted in China on infants tested at 6 weeks of age.
My project for this past summer was on a different aspect of the same project. In this study, we were interested in the effects of IDA on 9-month-old infants. However, the aim of this project was to evaluate the effects of IDA on infants’ social emotional behavior. Infants with and without IDA were tested in China, and we looked at their brain activity by using electro-encephalogram (EEG) imaging technique. Frontal EEG asymmetry is known as a measure of emotional state. Frontal EEG asymmetry data suggests that high alpha activity in the left hemisphere of the brain correlates to positive emotion, and higher alpha activity in the right hemisphere of the brain correlates to negative emotion.
In the study, a damp “cap” with electrodes dipped in salt-water prior to testing was placed on an infant’s head. Consequently, the infant was exposed to three situations: baseline in which s(he) watched bubbles in the neutral situation, positive in which the baby played Peek-a-Boo with the mother, and negative in which a stranger approached the room. Before any analysis could be done on this “raw” data, it was run by artifact detection, which detected waves that were not representative of genuine brain wave data. Working with infants is unpredictable, and eye blinks, head/neck turns and other common movements occur, which produce unusable data.
This is where my part came in. My project involved screening for the eye blinks, movements, and other data that were clearly not representative of brain wave data. This was called “hand-editing”. In turn, I ran a tool called “bad channel replacement” to replace all of the bad channel recordings. A channel is an electrode used in EEG recording. The next steps basically involved running Matlab and SPSS to define the link between IDA (post-natal iron levels) and social-emotional behavior, according to the frontal asymmetry theory.
I believe that my summer experience has been fundamental in driving me toward a research-focused career. Since I am majoring in neuroscience and have interests in biology, my research was a great opportunity to apply my learning in the “real world”. Being exposed to leaders in the Center for Growth and Human Development was also beneficial. I learned how to work independently, network and do basic data work using data analysis software. I was also introduced to the vast possibilities for a career in scientific research. Overall, I am so grateful that the Elaine Feldman Summer Research Fellowship gave me an opportunity to live, breathe, and eventually come to love research this summer. I am eager to be continuing research in the fall through independent study.
This past summer, the WISE RP awarded me an Elaine R. Feldman Summer Research Award, which enabled me to immerse myself in research for thirty hours per week for ten weeks. I am so grateful to MS. Feldman for her generous support!
I came to college not knowing exactly what research entailed. I had a picture in my mind of white lab coats, test tubes, and microscopes in a secret, futuristic environment – something that normal people, especially inexperienced students, would naturally be shut away from. But coming to Michigan, I found out that I, as an undergraduate student, had the opportunity to not only participate in this research but to immerse myself in it and advance my knowledge and responsibility over time. Suddenly this previous vision I had of research started to change. Students are not merely “allowed” to participate in research – they are in fact sought after and desired. I also realized that obtaining research experience would fortify my application to medical school. So, as a student passionate about science, I decided it would be a perfect area in which to put forth my efforts. But my understanding of the research world was only beginning to take shape as I began my first position through UROP during my freshman year. Throughout my first two undergraduate years, I have greatly expanded my personal definition of the word “research.”
My experiences have led me to many insights, and I hope that I can provide the scoop on what I’ve learned throughout my research experiences at Michigan:
- There are many research opportunities throughout campus for students, even those with little or no experience. Most principal investigators (PIs) understand that many students are applying for their first research experience. Often they will pair undergraduates with graduate students so they can have some level of guidance throughout their tasks. Soon enough, you will be able to take on more responsibility and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts behind your work.
- While the typical research experience is thought of as biomedical, there are myriad fields you can get involved in: ecology, psychology, chemistry, math, engineering, and even non-scientific fields such as economics and history. Choose something that you are interested in studying!
- If you are not enjoying what you are doing, change projects at the end of the semester! Although I learned a great deal in my first lab, it was not giving me the exposure I would have liked. I found a new lab the next year that gave me the opportunities and responsibilities that I desired. I was fortunate enough to spend the summer advancing my contributions toward this lab I am a part of now. My project involves trying to perfect a novel method (RNA interference) to inactivate gene expression in amphibians in vivo. Therefore, a good part of my research involves working with live tadpoles and analyzing brain tissue, something that I’ve surprisingly developed a love for! I also enjoy the fact that I have started working more independently and have a project “of my own, ” which is a great feeling.
- If you decide you are not enjoying research in general, that’s okay! You don’t have to embark on a career path in research, but at least you will find out if research is right for you. I realized that even though I enjoyed working in my research lab, a career in medicine was still the right fit for me. However, I have friends who came to the opposite conclusion after originally being pre-med. It’s a very individual decision that you can only make once you’ve gained some of exposure in the field.
- How do you get involved in research? I personally began with the UROP program my freshman year, which I highly recommend, especially for first-time researchers. My sophomore year, however, I decided to find a project on my own. Talk to your professors, explore the many research websites, email researchers from projects that interest you, and check out the UM employment website if you are looking for a paid experience. Take advantage of all the opportunities Michigan has to offer; as a large research institution, there is something available for everyone who has the interest.
I cannot possibly write everything I’ve learned about scientific research in this brief article, but I hope I’ve provided some insight and sparked some interest in research. Experiencing the research world for yourself is truly the best way to get exposure and understanding. Hopefully you can all get involved in research at some point while still at the University of Michigan because it is truly a worthwhile endeavor!