Professor Kimberley Lakes incorporates several undergraduate researchers in her lab every year, and their participation benefits both her and the students she mentors. The students’ energy and new ideas provide inspiration for her own research, while the leadership and guidance she provides them prepares them for their future education and careers. Her primary recommendation to students who are considering getting involved in research is to focus on their own interests and to find a professor whose research matches those goals. UROP is pleased to highlight the difference Professor Lakes is making in the lives of the undergraduate students she mentors.

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

My interest in mentoring undergraduate research has really been inspired by the students themselves. I’ve encountered some amazing students at UC Irvine, and their enthusiasm for research coupled with their intelligence and hard work have inspired me to invest even more time in student mentoring. I’ve directed SURP, UROP, and Excellence in Research projects. Some of the research topics were developed by the students themselves, and others emerged from my current research.

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

I look for students who are motivated, intelligent, hardworking, and passionate about children’s health and wellbeing. I select students who are self-driven and who are able to function independently when given a task and guidelines. Students also need to be flexible and have outstanding interpersonal skills—these are essential to ensure a positive environment in our research center and in interactions with research participants and their families.

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

I generally have a small team of research students (5–6) and meet regularly with them. In our meetings we discuss my current studies and how they might provide experiences that fit with my students’ career development goals. Between meetings, students are scheduled to work alongside research coordinators and staff, interacting directly with children and their families. We select goals (e.g., applying for a UROP grant or submitting an abstract to a conference) and work toward those together. Between meetings, we communicate via email, text messages, and phone calls, and we often work alongside each other when we are conducting research assessments, analyzing data, or conducting intervention sessions.

I invite students to come to me to discuss personal career and educational development goals. For example, one undergraduate student worked with me in research for five years. Early on, she was one of a small group, and she eventually went on to earn several UROP awards, a SURP award, and received Excellence in Research. When she began to work on her medical school applications, we discussed ideas for her personal statement, conducted mock interviews, reviewed her CV together, and stayed in touch during her interview season. During that time she became a co-author on two research papers and presented an abstract at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting. She’s now in her first year of medical school at UCLA.

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

I tend to select students who are interested in clinical settings (e.g., becoming a physician or physical therapist, etc.) and who are seeking a patient-involved research experience. Students have told me that they find the interactions with children and families to be very helpful in their preparation for these types of careers, and I have seen their interpersonal skills improve as a result of their experience. They are able to build confidence in meeting patients, talking to families, and interacting with professionals. They also learn about research and how it can be used to improve health, and I hope they become more critical consumers of research and health information. For most students, the experience also gives them an edge when it comes to applying for graduate and medical school.

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

Guiding student projects is personally very rewarding, and I enjoy seeing my students succeed. Having them involved in our studies has been great for me, as well as for the children and families involved. Right now, I’m running an exercise intervention study for children with cerebral palsy. My six research students are "research mentors” (they serve as a guide and resource during the research assessment process and intervention sessions) to the children in the study, and both the parents and kids have talked about how wonderful the students are and how much they enjoy working with them. The study as a whole is so much better off because of their involvement. Our research participants are happier, their parents think it’s great, and the help they provide is invaluable. On top of all this, the research students seem to be benefiting from and enjoying the experience.

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

Choose a topic and area that excites you: it will make it easier to invest the time and effort needed to be successful. Choose a professor who works in an area that interests you and let him or her know why you are pursuing that area. Don’t blindly email a group of professors the same standard email. Instead take the time to think about what you’d like to study and look for a good fit. Be thoughtful and describe why you want to work in a particular lab, and don’t be afraid to communicate what you hope to gain from the experience.

Research Interests: Children's Self-Regulation and Executive Function; ADHD; Autism; NeuroEducation; Intervention and Prevention; Child Assessment; Bioethics

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