Professor Sheryl Tsai calls the students she mentors her “mirrors”; and says she learns more from them than they do from her. As such, she considers mentoring to be a critical part of her research. Professor Tsai enjoys being a part of students’ growing passion as they delve into their projects, and takes great pride in their accomplishments as they move on to graduate school. UROP is proud to highlight the joy that Professor Tsai brings to her support for undergraduate research.

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

My group focuses on the chemical biology of natural product biosynthesis, with the goal of drug discovery. Many UCI undergraduate students also share my vision of turning our work from bench to bed, and I aim to work with the students by stimulating their interest in biomedical research.

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

Any student, really! We have students who are highly motivated, which is wonderful to work with, then we also have students coming into the lab thinking "oh, I will just give it a try," and ended up passionate about research and went on to graduate school. I would say every Anteater is already qualified!

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

We have weekly in-face meeting to discuss research, on top of the group meeting where group members take turns giving research or paper presentations. I also take each student hiking around the campus. The famous route is the "seven-bridge course of UCI." Then we have BBQs and parties at my home. My conviction is that if I do a good job mentoring the students, the research will be good, so will be the papers, and that in turn will help the students to reach their next career goal, whether being a doctor, a dentist or a Ph.D.

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

It is enormous. Our UROP program is truly one of a kind in our nation. I cannot say enough about how the UROP experience changes our undergraduate students. The hands-on experience, the symposium, the poster and oral presentation, it gives the students a different perspective on what they can accomplish in life.

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

They are my mirrors. In fact, most are my Facebook friends. I think I learn more from them than vice versa!

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

Have fun. Make sure you are as passionate about your research project as the hottest online game you are playing. If you are passionate about that research project, great ideas will fly, and it can happen here in UCI.

Research Interests: Biochemistry, Chemical Biology, Structural Biology, Enzymology, Microbiology

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '13 Jean Gehricke
Nov. '13 Sergey Nizkorodov
Oct. '13 David S. Meyer
Sep. '13 Kieron Burke
Aug. '13 Mahtab Jafari
Jul. '13 André van der Hoek
Jun. '13 Abraham P. Lee
May. '13 Sheryl Tsai
Apr. '13 Julia Reinhard Lupton
Mar. '13 Richard Matthew
Feb. '13 Jogeshwar Mukherjee
Jan. '13 Diane K. O’Dowd