Professor Abe Lee accepted three undergraduate researchers into his lab early in his UCI career and he was impressed by their passion and contributions to the lab’s accomplishments. Since then, he has continued to look for talented and motivated undergraduates to mentor in his lab. Professor Lee considers a student’s commitment to be an important part of their research; he insists that spending a full year in a single lab is needed to learn the degree of perseverance research requires. Professor Lee was awarded the 2008 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for the Henry Samueli School of Engineering in recognition of his contributions to UCI’s undergraduate research culture.

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

I had the fortune of having three very talented undergraduates approach me when I first joined UCI about 12 years ago. I had very few people in my lab at the time so I just took them in. They surprised me as to how much a motivated undergraduate student can contribute to my lab's research and, ever since, I have been on the lookout for motivated undergraduate students to work in my lab. The types of projects range from point-of-care microfluidic devices to the synthesis of gene transfection nanoparticles.

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

First, I look for sheer interest (and preferably excitement) in the research my lab conducts. Second, I look for students who are thoughtful and have the right attitude towards research. Third, I look for commitment and the willingness to persevere through the ups and downs of the sometimes mundane day-to-day tasks research requires. Finally, I want to make sure the students are good at time management in balancing what it takes to do well in their coursework, their social life, and the research that I assign.

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

It has varied over the years. With my recent administrative duties as department chair, I am even more hands off as an undergraduate mentor, often delegating that responsibility to my graduate students and postdocs. However, I try to be responsive to motivated students who have bright ideas and strong motivation. I find time to meet and guide students if they are persistent and know what they want.

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

My undergrad students have done very well. Those first three students ended up at very good places and I still stay in touch with them (one finished medical school at Duke and now is a resident at UCLA medical school, one an MD-PhD student at Rice University/Baylor medical school, one at a high-paying job in industry). Most students are exposed to both fundamental and applied research concepts in my lab and they benefit from hands-on problem solving as well as the thinking process in research (scientific inquiry, design, logic, creativity).

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

A professor always benefits from being around young and bright minds. It is even more obvious at the undergrad level. I had an undergrad write a couple patents while in my lab. He was a true joy to have in the lab since he was constantly thinking up brand new creative ideas and discussing them with me. I couldn't even keep up with him but was able to benefit from his energy and boundless creative spirit.

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

I would suggest that the students do some homework before approaching a professor to join their lab's research. However, once they select and join a lab, they should be prepared to commit at least a whole year in that lab. You may discover that the research project is not very interesting to you but you can always learn different things from each lab. If you join labs for short terms and jump from lab to lab, you will not be able to learn the essence of research and what it takes to persevere and see how research truly incubates, nucleates, and crystallizes. If you experienced the whole process during your undergrad years, the experience could be life changing and help you in anything you end up doing.

Research Interests: Micro/nanofluidics, biosensors, point-of-care diagnostics, BioMEMS, cell sorting, materials synthesis, targeted imaging/therapeutics

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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