Professor John Billimek approaches undergraduate researchers both as an opportunity to mentor his students and as a way to broaden his own approach to his work. He appreciates the different interests, backgrounds and ideas that his students bring to his lab and, in turn, gives his students the chance to grow toward their own academic and career success. Professor Billimek stresses the importance of communication within a project, and advises his students to learn to understand the different perspectives of those with whom they are working. UROP is pleased to recognize Professor Billimek for the enthusiasm he brings to mentoring the undergraduates working under his guidance.

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

I love learning from students with experiences different than my own, and enjoy following my students’ curiosity to create interesting research projects. We’ve done work listening to the audio recordings of hundreds of medical appointments to learn more about how doctors and patients communicate about real-life barriers to care, and examining the impact of student-led health education interventions in safety net clinics throughout the county.

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

Our work depends on students with a heart for service, and the will to work independently to understand inequities in health. We are at our best when the lab is filled with students from different cultural backgrounds, who speak languages other than English and who yearn to connect with communities in need.

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

My students are at their best when their projects serve their own personal and professional goals. Throughout my time working with students, I try to come to understand those goals and create opportunities to gain skills, recognition and resources to help achieve them. Every week, we aim to begin our lab meetings with a “check-in” about the successes and challenges of the past week, just to make sure the students know they are supported. In addition to my direct interactions with students, all of our research projects are organized as group projects, led by more experienced students who mentor new students and share credit for the work between all who contribute.

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

My students have published papers and been funded to present at conferences all over the state and as far away as Boston. They’ve volunteered with me on medical missions in the mountains of Peru, and have achieved incredible things related to their academic, community service and career goals.

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

I draw incredible energy from the students, and have developed entire new areas of research from my interactions with them. Working with them has introduced me to incredible programs like the Health Scholars Program, Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) and the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community, which has become the center of my professional calling.

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

Two things: First, learn to think from the perspective of others. This should influence how you listen to others, communicate with others in your writing and presentations and the work you do for and with others each day. Understand what interests and motivates others (including your PI!) and find how your efforts and ideas can complement theirs. Your collaborations will be all the more rich and successful. Second, be willing to say “no!” Your time is valuable—not just to you, but to the world. It is not ok to flake, or to do poor work because you are overcommitted. So think carefully about what you can commit to, and communicate to your collaborators and mentors what you are available to do. Saying “no” to some opportunities is the best way to be able to say “yes” to the things that matter most to you—and to ensure you can succeed in those efforts.

Research Interests: Health disparities, creating a responsive health care system, doctor-patient communication, access to evidence-based therapies

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '16 Miryha Gould Runnerstrom
Nov. '16 Allison Perlman
Oct. '16 John Billimek
Sep. '16 Wayne B. Hayes
Aug. '16 Aimee Lara Edinger
Jul. '16 Katherine Mackey
Jun. '16 Daniel Whiteson
May. '16 Wirachin Hoonpongsimanont
Apr. '16 Michael T. Goodrich
Mar. '16 Lonnie R. Alcaraz
Feb. '16 Kimberley D. Lakes
Jan. '16 Rocío Rosales