UROP salutes Professor James Nowick for the excellent guidance and inspiration he contributes to the undergraduate students he mentors. Undergraduates have been conducting research in his chemistry laboratory for his entire 18 years at UCI, and many have gone on to graduate school at prestigious universities around the nation. He meets weekly with the undergraduates in his laboratory to discuss results and plan upcoming experiments, a practice he has since expanded to include graduate and postdoctoral researchers as well; this expanded communication has benefited his entire research group. Professor Nowick encourages the undergraduates he mentors to take initiative, set significant goals, and never settle for anything less than excellence.

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

I have been fortunate to have talented undergraduates in my research laboratory since my very first day at UCI, 18 years ago. My undergraduate students have made substantial research contributions that have resulted in co-authorship of papers in internationally recognized journals and to talks and presentations at major research conferences. Their research projects seek to understand and control the interactions of peptides and proteins. Students in my laboratory use chemical synthesis to build molecules designed to mimic peptides and proteins and then use techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study their interactions. The results of these studies often lead to enhanced understanding that allows us to refine our designs and to synthesize molecules with improved properties.

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

I expect nothing less than the best from my undergraduates. They work hard, like graduate students, and are expected to have a continued commitment to research, even between quarters and in the summer.

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

I enjoy mentoring undergraduate students. I meet with my undergraduates weekly to discuss their results and plan the next week’s experiments. I have been so pleased with these weekly meetings that I began similar meetings with my graduate and postdoctoral students. Thus, the undergraduate mentorship has benefited my entire research group.

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

Many of my undergraduate students go on to graduate school at first-rate research universities, such as Cal Tech, Harvard, and UCI. I would like to think that my mentorship has played a role in their future. Right now, I am particularly proud that one of my former undergraduates, currently a post-doc at Harvard, is applying for faculty positions at first-rate universities across the country.

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

My guidance of undergraduates has helped me be a better mentor to all of my students through the sort of weekly meetings described above. Also, there is often cross-fertilization between their projects and those of graduate and post-doctoral students in the laboratory. Thus, their research benefits other projects in my lab and vise versa.

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

Work hard and never settle for less than excellence from yourself. Take the initiative to read broadly about your project and your research area. Set a goal of accomplishing something significant and to communicate your findings through publication or presentation at a conference.

Research Interests: Organic and Bioorganic Chemistry, Chemical Biology, Biomolecular Nanotechnology

Faculty Profile: http://faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=2043&name=James%20S.%20Nowick

Email: jsnowick@uci.edu

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