UROP recognizes Professor Richard Robertson for his contribution to undergraduate research at UCI. Professor Robertson valued his own undergraduate research opportunities and has dedicated himself to providing similar opportunities to the students he mentors. He further demonstrated his passion for undergraduate research by serving on the UROP Faculty Advisory Board from 1997 to 2006.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

The opportunity to take part in discovery of new knowledge, rather than just learn from textbooks what is already known, is what distinguishes an undergraduate education at a research university. I greatly valued the opportunity to take part in research when I was an undergraduate, and I wanted to make that opportunity available to others. The undergraduate students I have been privileged to have in my lab have been bright, enthusiastic, and ambitious, and I appreciate the opportunity to nurture those qualities.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I am most interested in evidence of an independent spirit of inquiry, an individual who appears sincerely interested in using laboratory techniques to address an issue in fundamental biology. Students must have a high level of independence; they need to be able to manage their own time and schedules, to set goals and make concrete plans to achieve those goals, and to make decisions along the way.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

My role is to give overall direction, to make sure the studentís goals are compatible with the goals of this laboratory, and to make sure those goals are achievable. Itís also my role to make sure the resources (equipment, supplies, funding) are available to do the work. I like to meet with students, one-on-one, on a regular (usually weekly) basis, to discuss the project and any problems or advances that have occurred. I like to review all data collected by the students, and discuss the interpretation with the students. I provide the students scientific papers to read, and we discuss the techniques and implications of those papers.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

I think the students gain an understanding of how science works; that science is a way of gaining understanding of the world, rather than just a collection of facts. I hope they learn how new understanding is achieved. Many students from my lab have contributed to scientific papers that have been published, with them included as authors, and several have had first authorships on papers. Being listed as an author is helpful when students apply for graduate or professional school.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

I am constantly reminded of why I entered the field of science, and why I value my position as an academic scientist. I benefit from the studentsí enthusiasm and questions, and of course from the experiments they actually perform. My career as a Professor at the University of California has been facilitated by the work done by undergraduates in my laboratory.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

First, take some time to investigate several different options to find the best spot for you. Scour the websites of UCI departments that attract your interest, and find several faculty members whose work appeals to you. Contact those faculty, and arrange a meeting with them. It is essential that you find a question or approach that you find interesting and exciting enough to get you there on a regular basis. If you are not looking forward to spending time each day working on your project, then youíre probably not in the right place. Not every day is going to be joyful, but the approach (the journey each day) and the goal need to maintain your attention and enthusiasm.

Research Interests: My laboratory is a developmental neurobiology lab. We are interested in mechanisms of brain growth and development, and the role of neurotrophic factors in growth of axons and formation of axonal connections with target cells. We also have interests in development of non-viral techniques for gene and drug delivery, and have been studying the use of liposomes to deliver drugs and genes to target tissues, particularly liver cells.

Faculty Profile: http://faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=2250&name=Richard%20T.%20Robertson

Email: rtrobert@uci.edu

Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '09 Professor Donald D. Hoffman
Nov. '09 Professor Bruce Blumberg
Oct. '09 Professor A. J. Shaka
Sep. '09 Assistant Professor William M. Tomlinson
Aug. '09 Professor William C. Tang
Jul. '09 Professor Donald McKayle
Jun. '09 Assistant Professor Gillian R. Hayes
May. '09 Professor Jane O. Newman
Apr. '09 Associate Professor Mark P. Petracca
Mar. '09 Professor Richard T. Robertson