For Professor Elliot Botvinick, mentoring student researchers is a highlight of his position at UC Irvine. He is continually impressed by the quality of the undergraduates he mentors, and works to find ways to challenge them further. He looks for students who are curious and willing to work beyond their comfort zone. As a result of working with him, his students move on with hands-on skills that have them prepared for graduate school or their first jobs in industry. Professor Botvinick was awarded the 2011 Chancellorís Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for the Samueli School of Engineering in recognition of his commitment to fostering undergraduate research at UC Irvine.

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

The opportunity to work with students is one important reason I have remained in academia instead of moving to industry. I have been interested in mentoring our undergraduates since day one. I have directed projects spanning single molecule force spectroscopy, optical tweezers studies in mechanobiology and medical device development.

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

Honesty, curiosity and a good attitude. I expect undergraduates to be outside their comfort zone and push their limits, all for their own benefit. You will not find a "beaker washer" in my group. We all wash them and all students conduct scientific research.

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

I assign each undergraduate a Ph.D. student or post-doc mentor. In fact, the undergraduates are interviewed and selected by my team. I only hold veto power, which I have yet to use. I meet with undergraduates regularly in sub-group meetings. At these meetings, every good idea is welcome, no matter who it comes from, and we encourage our undergraduates to participate intellectually, not just with their thumbs.

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

They exit my lab with hands-on skills and are ready for their first job in industry. Our research requires students to know the math and physics taught in their course work, but our lab teaching goes well beyond the classroom.

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

There is a long list of what I have learned. Briefly put, we don't ask enough of our undergraduates. In my time here, I keep raising the bar and our students consistently rise to the challenge. I am very impressed by the quality of our undergraduates.

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

Look for a group with a healthy attitude of cooperation and mentorship. Ask around and find out from your peers which labs to avoid. Be proactive and follow your curiosity to the lab of your choosing.

Research Interests: Cellular and tissue biomechanics, cellular mechanotransduction, tissue function, vascular mechanobiology

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '15 Barbara Sarnecka
Nov. '15 Sarah Pressman
Oct. '15 Elliot Botvinick
Sep. '15 Xiangmin Xu
Aug. '15 Belinda Campos
Jul. '15 Yama Akbari
Jun. '15 Loretta Livingston
May. '15 Mohammad Al Faruque
Apr. '15 Steven D. Allison
Mar. '15 Emily D. Grossman
Feb. '15 Munjal M. Acharya
Jan. '15 Marcelo A. Wood