Professor Munjal Acharya considers mentoring undergraduate researchers in his lab to be one of the most rewarding aspects of his work. He enjoys the opportunity to share his enthusiasm with his students and to inspire the next generation of scientists. Professor Acharya considers his undergraduates to be vital parts of his lab, and especially looks for curiosity and motivation when selecting students to mentor. Professor Acharya’s dedication to fostering undergraduate research was recognized through his nomination for the 2015 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for the School of Medicine.

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

Dr. Albert Einstein correctly stated: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." The instruction and mentorship of students is one of the most rewarding and important components of academic science. Teaching allows me to educate a large number of young minds about a scientific field and impress upon them the excitement and enthusiasm I have towards scientific research. Teaching also allows me to encourage, foster, and perhaps even inspire the development of future young scientists. Since joining UCI Radiation Oncology in 2007, we have mentored more than 30 undergraduate and medical students in our laboratory. My research team in the laboratory, including senior research staff, helps with the technical training and mentorship of undergraduate students in the field of basic and translational neurobiology of radiation and chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction, neural stem cells and epigenetic regulation of brain injury.

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

Undergraduate students, including Bio-199 trainees, are critical members of my laboratory and while interviewing them, I try to evaluate their curiosity for learning, commitment and self-motivation. We also discuss the specific branch of research they are interested in carrying out in our laboratory. Our undergraduates always impress us with their passion to take new challenges, dedication and time management skills. We also expect them to work as a part of the team, contribute in the overall success of the research project and take active part in lab meetings to discuss trouble shooting, results and new research avenues.

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

I get involved at various levels of undergraduate student research orientation and training. Typically, we plan out a broad outline of research project and provide tasks that undergraduate students need to fulfill. Senior research staff provides training for the assigned tasks. I make myself available at every step, as and when required, by our research team and undergraduate students. On average, an undergraduate student becomes fairly independent within a year in couple of research tasks in our lab. I also help undergraduates in preparing for presentations, assignments and in many cases help them to prepare for higher studies including medical school and graduate school applications.

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

I believe that students who worked in my laboratory became more confident in their passion to move ahead in higher studies. Most of our undergraduate students also benefited from presentation of their scientific results in national and international meetings and eventually, in research publication. In turn, these achievements helped to boost their CVs when they applied for graduate or medical schools. Some of our students were also successful in receiving Best Poster and UROP awards. Additionally, one of my students has formed a University recognized group WISDM (Women in Science Dedicated to Mentorship). This university recognized and funded program mentors and encourages girls to go into scientific educational programs in college. In support of their efforts, we hosted a group of female high school students involved in the Girls Inc. program, a program that empowers girls and also encourages them to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) paths in higher education. This group toured our laboratory and spoke with the undergraduate researchers, staff members and senior scientific members of the laboratory, learning about not only our specific research program, but also general educational and employment opportunities in the biological sciences.

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

Undergraduate students bring in fresh mind to re-think a scientific problem from a different perspective. Sometimes, their curiosity and self-motivation raise certain unanswered questions that help us to design new series of scientific studies. It is an amazing experience for us as a research team to interact with these enthusiastic young minds of UCI!

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

Thirst for knowledge and interest in gaining experience in an entirely new, goal oriented research environment will maximize their research experience. These qualities will make any undergraduate student a better citizen and successful in higher studies.

Research Interests: Radiation biology of neural stem cells, neurobiology of radiation or chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction, epigenetic regulation of brain injury response

Department 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