During his career at UCI, Professor Kenneth Shea has mentored more than 75 undergraduate researchers, most of who have gone on to graduate or professional school. Professor Shea learned the importance of mentorship when he was an undergraduate, and he is passionate about providing research opportunities to the next generations of scientists. He looks for students with enthusiasm and commitment, and considers working with them to be one of the most rewarding aspects of his career. According to Professor Shea, pursuing undergraduate experience not only enhances a student’s education, it can change their life. UROP is proud to highlight Professor Shea’s passionate dedication to mentoring undergraduate researchers at UCI.

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

One of our most important responsibilities is to train future generations of scientists. My own introduction to research in chemistry came when I was provided an opportunity to do undergraduate research in organic chemistry. It was that experience that confirmed my commitment to research in chemistry. Providing undergraduate and high school students with opportunities to experience research will ensure the supply of future generations of scientists. In my laboratory undergraduates have been involved in projects that range from natural product synthesis, catalyst development, polymer and materials chemistry and “plastic” antibodies.

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

My own undergraduate research experience taught me many things that have been valuable to me throughout my career. These include analytical thinking, curiosity and a very healthy work ethic. For undergraduates who are looking for research in my laboratory I look for enthusiasm and commitment.

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

On a day-to-day basis undergraduates work with graduate and postdoctoral students. They are actually the most important in training undergraduates and exposing them to the research experience. My contribution involves reviewing and editing research reports. This provides undergraduates with experience in technical writing and documenting the research results in a form that would be suitable for publication. I encourage students to apply for UROP research grants and to present their results at both local and national research conferences. I also strive to create an ongoing awareness of laboratory safety.

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

I think every student who invests a serious effort in undergraduate research benefits greatly regardless of their chosen career paths. Just about every one of the more than 75 undergraduates who have been associated with me over the years have gone on to either graduate or professional schools and many have now started their own independent research careers. This is one of the most awarding aspects of my career.

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

I have learned something from each student. They have come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. But quite frankly what impresses me most is regardless of their background how much all of them have in common.

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

Just do it. Take advantage of UCI’s incredible research programs. Invest your intellect and get enthusiastic about. It’s much more than just doing lab work; it can change your life.

Research Interests: Synthetic Organic, Polymer and Materials Chemistry

Faculty Profile: http://www.chem.uci.edu/~kjshea/index.php

Email: kjshea@uci.edu

Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '12 James C. Earthman
Nov. '12 Kenneth J. Shea
Oct. '12 Jeanett Castellanos
Sep. '12 Barry Siegel
Aug. '12 Martha L. Mecartney
Jul. '12 Brandon Brown
Jun. '12 Wayne Sandholtz
May. '12 Farghalli A. Mohamed
Apr. '12 Susan T. Charles
Mar. '12 Katherine Faust
Feb. '12 Donald R. Blake
Jan. '12 Elizabeth Cauffman