Professor Aimee Edinger mentors undergraduates, in part, to introduce them to the realities of conducting cutting-edge science. This gives her students a chance to find out whether a life devoted to research appeals to them. She stresses intellectual independence for her students, teaching them to ask questions constantly and not take previous assumptions for granted. In return, Professor Edinger enjoys the fresh enthusiasm and ideas undergraduates bring to her lab. UROP is pleased to recognize Professor Edinger for her dedication to supporting undergraduate research.

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

When I was an undergraduate at UC Davis, I participated in three different research labs as a 199 student: a molecular biology lab, a pharmacology lab, and an exercise physiology lab. These experiences led to my decision to enter a combined degree program where I could earn a PhD as well as a veterinary degree. I was the first scientist and the first PhD in my family, and so working in a research lab was my first taste of what it was like to do real, cutting-edge science. I want to make sure that UC Irvine students who love science have a chance to experience the excitement (and the challenges!) of discovery science so that they can find out whether the lab calls to them like it did to me. Undergraduates have played a key role in my lab’s efforts to develop novel anti-cancer therapies that starve tumor cells to death and have helped to perform mechanistic studies to better understand how these potential drugs work.

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 ask good questions, are self-motivated, and who are willing to think about what they are doing and why. Good grades are a good sign, but grades do not always predict which students will thrive in the lab. Students who take responsibility for their learning and who are motivated by a challenge seem to be most successful in the lab. It is very important that student researchers are responsible and reliable, being in the lab when they say they will be, finishing reports on time, and taking responsibility for cleaning up after themselves.

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

I only accept a small number of undergraduates in the lab, and each student works with a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in the lab on a daily basis. Bio199 students provide me with reports every other week, and I provide feedback in person or by email on their work. I meet with undergraduates one to three times during the quarter to discuss their project and future directions depending on how productive they are.

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

Working in a lab helps students gain intellectual independence. What do I mean by this? One of my rules for being a successful scientist is “Trust no one.” This means that you should always question whether what someone is telling you makes sense; you should consider the evidence and then come to your own decision about the topic, don’t just take “facts” for granted. Critical thinking skills gained in the lab will help students learn how to make good decisions in many different life situations. In addition, in most careers students are planning to pursue, the ability to come up with solutions to unsolved problems is much more valuable than remembering answers other people have already figured out. Being in the lab also helps students become comfortable with the idea that we don’t know all the answers…yet!

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

Undergraduates who find out that they love science remind me how lucky I am to have my job and how much fun it is to be involved in discovery. It is sort of like going to Disneyland with your kids; you get to see it through their eyes.

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

Take responsibility for your project: read the literature, ask questions, and make sure that you understand the significance and impact of what you are doing. The experiments are boring unless you understand the questions you are asking and how the answers will change the way we see the world.

Research Interests: Cancer Bioenergetics, Nutrient Transporter Proteins, Sphingolipids, Cancer Biology, Metabolism, Autophagy, Rab7, mTOR, Akt

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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