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Student Research Reflections: In their Own Words

The OUR asked students to share their thoughts about participating in undergraduate research including what they learned, and how the experience has shaped their academic trajectory and future professional endeavors. Their inspirational reflections appear below.

Thiago Arzua (Chemistry)

Research Project

Metalloradical Catalyzed N=N Bond Formation with Fluoroaryl Azides: A New Approach to the Synthesis of Fluoroazobenzene Compounds.

Research Mentors

Dr. Peter Zhang, Professor
Dr. Li-Mei Jin, Postdoctoral Scholar

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

Starting as a freshman, I had a very basic knowledge of the theory behind the experiments, and this first project helped not only to understand the basics of my own group’s research, but also the basics of chemical research as a whole. Changing major from biomedical sciences to chemistry seemed really easy after realizing how much I enjoy working in the lab. More recently, presenting my findings in two conferences forced me to develop skills I would never use in normal classes. I would say that this first project gave me the confidence to continue doing research, and aiming for improvements in my skills.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

I went to my first OUR workshop after 2 weeks of classes. By then, I had already realized that doing research seemed really important. Step by step, the OUR guided from not knowing anything about research to finding a mentor, and finally presenting my project in the Colloquium months later.

Without the OUR I would not be able to understand the foundations of what research is, and how to start. They were not only the starting point, but also a support from then to every step in the way.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

Before starting research, I had just a vague idea of my goals and plans. After engaging with faculty members, post-doc scholars and graduate students, I realized that doing research was perfect, not just for my learning style, but also for my goals. Research is not just mixing colorful liquids and growing bacteria in petri dishes, it is finding and discovering concepts and methods never seen or known before. Most labs in the world are doing now what students will be studying in the textbooks 10 years from now. By working directly with cutting edge notions and procedures, one force oneself to really learn theory; because this is what will support all the experiments from then. Thus, in class everything becomes much simpler, it becomes a matter of understanding rather than memorizing. Moreover, doing research gave me the opportunity to network and learn from the same people that I would only see presenting lectures otherwise. In the end, I am now gearing all my efforts for a strong researcher career, even before finishing college. Engaging in undergraduate research enhanced my studies and changed my goals, in sum, it gave me a better perspective of what I can achieve and how to achieve it.


Thiago has participated in the following OUR activities: 2013 Research and Arts Colloquium, Getting Started workshop, Professional Development workshop, Colloquium Preparation workshop, OUR Student Volunteer

Sophia Pothen (Biomedical Sciences)

Research Project

Nietzsche’s Last Human and Modern Society

Research Mentor

Ali Y. Elamin, Ph.D. Candidate, Philosophy

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

By engaging in an interdisciplinary project, I had the opportunity to think and view an idea in a different angle from what is promoted from within my major and discipline. I engaged in a lot of critical thinking and writing on a level that I otherwise would not engage in.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

The OUR is simply nothing less of amazing! OUR has been more than supportive and ultimately, the OUR workshops as well as talks with the OUR staff (even 5-10 minutes) can drastically change one’s life : )

That is coming from personal experience. Though I had a general idea as to where I wanted to go, little talks as well as the workshops were really the light that guided my footsteps over the course of the past year and even now.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

Participating in research allowed me to bring both the right (creative/emotional) and the left brain(logical/rational) together in a manner that only focusing on the sciences would not have let me. All my projects, except the biomedical research, are interdisciplinary projects – those that allowed and allow me to pursue questions of my interest and passion, as well as new experiences outside the realm of my discipline. I have learned to think and thereby live in a more open-minded and tolerant manner due to my participation in research.


Sophia has participated in the following OUR activities: 2013 Research and Arts Colloquium, Getting Started workshop, Professional Development workshop, Colloquium Preparation workshop, OUR Student Volunteer

Rebecca Stoll (Biomedical Sciences)

Research Project

USF History

Research Mentor

Andy Huse, Research Librarian

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

This research experience was very valuable to me because it was a subject that I was very interested in and passionate about. It showed me that research in all areas is important and enhanced my college experience because I was knowledgeable about the university I was attending.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

OUR has been supportive throughout my entire research process. Without them, I would have never had this opportunity so I am always willing to help teach other students about the importance of undergraduate research.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

My goals have remained the same; however, I am thankful that I have knowledge in other categories besides hard science.


Rebecca has participated in the following OUR activities: Getting Started workshop, OUR Student Volunteer

Olivia Means (Biology)

Research Project

The Florida Mental Health Institute’s Role in Statewide Children’s Mental Health Advocacy

Research Mentor

Tomaro Taylor, Research Librarian

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

This project allowed me to gain further experience into the research process. Additionally, I was able to engage with faculty and receive valuable feedback on my writing and data collection skills. This project also reaffirmed my love for research and I hope to continue participating in these academic activities.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

The OUR was helpful in connecting me with another experience to learn more about mental health outside the classroom.

Furthermore, the OUR worked with me in getting this experience to count as course credit. The OUR supports students in research, from finding the opportunity to providing a forum for students to present their work. Their enthusiasm for helping us succeed is evident in every person in the office.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

Participating in research has given me the knowledge, experience and confidence to explore new things, present my interests and work hard for worthy causes. Research has also shown me the importance of patience and diligence in going through processes like getting IRB approval, recruiting study participants and trying to publish. All the skills I have developed by working on various research projects will serve me in becoming a better student, physician and researcher.


Olivia has participated in the following OUR activities: Getting Started workshop, OUR Student Volunteer, Research and Arts Colloquium

Tran Luong (Cell, Micro, and Molecular Biology)

Research Project

MicroRNA-16 regulates pulmonary artery smooth muscle cell proliferation and apoptosis

Research Mentor

Dr. Narasaiah Kolliputi, Molecular Medicine

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

The undergraduate research experience has a big impact on my academic career. My experience has showed me how to apply my knowledge I gained from my courses to the real world that possibly can make an impact in the society.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

During the Spring of 2012, I knew that I wanted to join a research lab. However, I did not know where to start. Therefore, I decided to sign up for the Undergraduate Research workshop.

The workshop was very helpful. Dr. Pollenz gave a lot of good advice. I took his advice and emailed professors that conduct researches I am interested in. I successfully found a position. In the Fall of 2012, OUR’s staff helped me sign up for my research experience. Especially, Dr. Pollenz and Ms. Piazza continue to guide me to achieve my research goals.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

As a student majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology, it is hard to be able to visualize how the information I learned in biology courses can apply to real life scenarios, especially health-related. By being in this research laboratory allowed me to witness the usage of molecular techniques to find possible therapeutic treatments for different diseases. This experience allows me to see the importance of research in the medical field.


Tran has participated in the following OUR activities: 2013 Research and Arts Colloquium, Getting Started workshop, Professional Development workshop, Colloquium Preparation workshop

Emily Bauer (Biology)

Research Project

Changing Student Understanding of Engagement in Undergraduate Research at an R1 University through a Getting Started Workshop

Research Mentor

Dr. Richard S. Pollenz, Director, Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR)

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

Engaging in undergraduate research has helped me gain valuable connections with USF faculty and improve my academic coursework. For instance, my biology and chemistry lab report grades increased after understanding the processes of research through the project with Dr. Pollenz. Additionally, I have acquired professional public speaking skills by presenting at the OUR Research and Arts Colloquium and summer orientations. Honing these skills now is helping me prepare for the next courses I take, regardless of the field of study. They are skills I can apply to written work, presentations, and analyses in any subjects I encounter. By performing research, I have enriched my education beyond the classroom to give me a better awareness of all my studies.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

The OUR workshops I attended were very helpful, laid out a clear idea of what research really is, and how it enhances students’ time at the university.

The Getting Started Workshop especially inspired me to get involved because it made me realize the impact research could have on my academics and future. By actually working in the OUR, I engaged with a lot of the staff, who always showed support and interest in our research project. My goal was to enrich my education through the project, but what I gained exceeded my expectations. I was able to see not only the outcome of my hard work, but also why it mattered. The OUR Research and Arts Colloquium allowed me to present my findings professionally within the scientific community, exposing me to the benefits of research.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

By participating in research, I will be more prepared for my honors thesis during my senior year and graduate studies afterward. The connections I have made with the OUR staff and other faculty will also improve my ability to get hired after finishing my academic career. As I want to enter the field of sustainability and environmental studies, knowledge of the research process will allow me to better understand the issues I will encounter. This experience has given me a better perception of what goes into research, enabled me to write and speak professionally, and increased my confidence in pursuing my goals.


Emily has participated in the following OUR activities: 2013 Research and Arts Colloquium, Getting Started workshop, Professional Development workshop, Colloquium Preparation workshop, OUR Student Volunteer

Jyoti Mehta (Biology)

Research Project

Mice model for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis research and effects of nano-emulsions on Acute Lung Injury

Research Mentor

Dr. Narasaiah Kolliputi, Molecular Medicine

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

The undergraduate research experience has provided an understanding of what research methodologies are and what aspects are involved in utilizing such research methodologies. Due to the research lab’s staff, I learned different laboratory techniques in an environment that is conducive to learning. Despite having any background in research, I took the opportunity to get involved in undergraduate research and it has definitely helped to boost my confidence in what I can achieve academically. The knowledge and hands-on experience I gained from the research has and will continue to help me with grasping the understanding of biology at both cellular and molecular levels. I am confident that this experience will enrich my application to medical schools in 2014. This experience has made me think that I want to return to research to contribute to the society when time permits in future.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

I, as a USF student, feel privileged to have OUR to help support my mission to get involved in research.

The OUR staff, especially Dr Richard Pollenz and Lisa Piazza, have been very patient with my questions regarding how to get involved in research and they were very resourceful in mentoring me throughout my involvement in research. Additionally, a variety of workshops such as getting started in undergraduate research that OUR conducts were very helpful to me. OUR made my transition from being a student without research background to a student who has involved in ground-breaking research.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

My participation in undergraduate research has definitely helped me understand biology at both cellular and molecular level. Further, it will help me in understanding the concepts involved in higher level biological science classes in future. I am sure that this experience will continue to be an asset for my pathway to being a physician. The undergraduate research has helped me understand results demonstrated in scholarly articles from renowned journals. Besides, the work environment at the research lab has provided me more insights regarding collaboration, team work, and communication that are critical in any scientific community.


Jyoti has participated in the following OUR activities: Getting Started workshop, Colloquium Preparation workshop, OUR Student Volunteer

Ruben Centeno (Biomedical Sciences)

Research Project

Protein Structure and Function

Research Mentor

Dr. Ioannis Gelis, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

How has engaging in this undergraduate research experience has impacted your academic career?

This opportunity has impacted my academic career by showing me the vast opportunities available to all students at the University of South Florida. It gave me the opportunity to get out of the systematic procedure of the pre-med track. It really let me explore my major of Biomedical Science.

How has the OUR helped you to achieve your research goals?

The OUR services and staff are beyond amazing. They are extremely helpful and caring when it comes to expanding the student’s experience here at USF.

How has participating in research impacted your future academic and/or professional goals?

Participating in research reinforced what I want to do in my professional career. A lot of research is done in order to improve people’s lives. That is exactly what I wish to do.


Ruben has participated in the following OUR activities: Getting Started workshop series, OUR Student Volunteer

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