Professor Thomas Carew is constantly delighted by the curiosity and enthusiasm that the undergraduates he mentors bring to his laboratory. He also appreciates the teaching opportunity these students provide for his graduate students and postdoctoral colleagues. Research experience under Professor Carew’s mentorship has helped many of his undergraduate students shape their future goals, with many going on to graduate school or medical school. Professor Carew considers curiosity, collegiality and an eagerness to work hard to be vital traits for students entering his laboratory. These traits help his students take full advantage of the mentorship he offers. Congratulations to Professor Carew for excellent research experience he provides his students.

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

Here at UCI, as in any major research university, professors have two missions: teaching and research. Having undergraduate students in my laboratory allows me to combine these two goals, since learning to do science at the bench can be a vibrant educational experience. All of the projects I and my colleagues direct are hands-on experiments that explore mechanisms of learning and memory at behavioral, synaptic and molecular levels of analysis.

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

I look for a combination of curiosity, collegiality and a willingness to put in the work necessary to advance a project.

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

All of the undergraduates in my laboratory work directly with one of my graduate students or postdoctoral colleagues. In this way they always have someone in the shop to direct their work and help them if a problem arises. In essence this allows my overall laboratory to have a number of small research teams that tackle a common problem together. I then meet these teams about once a week to discuss progress, address problems or, occasionally, to write up the research results for publication. I have been delighted over the years to see the number of undergraduates who have earned co-authorship on a scientific paper from my laboratory.

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

Many of the undergraduates who have worked in my laboratory subsequently go on to graduate school or medical school. Most of these students tell me that their research experience significantly helped to shape their future goals. A very common comment is a deep appreciation of the dedication and commitment of their team leaders—my graduate students and postdoctoral fellows—to their scientific development.

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

I am consistently delighted by what undergraduates bring to my laboratory. Their curiosity and enthusiasm is wonderful. In addition, they provide a critical training experience that significantly benefits my graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

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

Three things: first, don’t get discouraged when a project doesn’t immediately pan out. There are many frustrations at the bench that are simply part of the scientific process. Second, if things aren’t working out (on any level), talk to your mentor and/or your professor. Don’t be shy. They want you to have a quality experience, but they won’t know that there is a problem unless you tell them. Finally, if you are not having fun, find another laboratory.

Research Interests: Brain mechanisms of learning and memory

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '10 Derek Dunn-Rankin
Nov. '10 Wendy A. Goldberg
Oct. '10 Bernard Choi
Sep. '10 Daniel S. Stokols
Aug. '10 James S. Nowick
Jul. '10 Thomas J. Carew
Jun. '10 Kristen Day
May. '10 Keith Woerpel
Apr. '10 Anshu Agrawal
Mar. '10 Darryl Taylor
Feb. '10 Michael J. Montoya
Jan. '10 Gregory Alan Weiss