Professor Amal Alachkar considers research to be an essential part of an undergraduate education. The students she mentors gain research experience, gain important skills, and gain insights that can help them establish future academic and career goals. Professor Alachkar looks to work with students who are curious about their work and dedicated to pursuing it. She particularly enjoys the opportunity to share her passion for discovery with the next generation of researchers. UROP is pleased to recognize Professor Alachkar for her ongoing support for 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?

Inside every one of us is a child who is curious, creative, and imaginary, asking WHAT and WHY questions about everything around us. Mentoring students enables me to awaken the child in them, to incite their curiosity and creativity.

I am passionate about both research and teaching; therefore, I enjoy observing the intellectual growth of my students. For me, mentorship is about inspiring students and looking after their interests, with a genuine desire to see everyone succeed. I view my mentorship role as to guide and facilitate students’ learning process; that is, to build their capacity to think, analyze, discover and eventually develop and present their own thoughts. Conducting research spurs in undergraduate students curiosity, creativity, teamwork, brainstorming, critical thinking, analysis and construction of novel knowledge. Students conducting research progressively learn that there are no absolute concrete answers, and that learning is about developing their own logic or framework of thinking to generate their own questions, designing methods to answer these questions, develop viewpoints, and judgments.

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

For me research is a reward itself; therefore, I look for undergraduate students who want to conduct research for the sake of interest, curiosity, and enjoyment regardless of the grades or credits. I expect students to commit their times for their research projects and to be team players because research is a collective intellectual work.

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

I first meet with my students to take them through what research projects we have and what types of questions we try to answer through these projects. I try to learn about their interests, which I then take into consideration when I assign them for specific projects. Undergraduate students are then paired with graduate students, and they participate in the lab meetings which expose them to scientific debates and discussions. I encourage my undergraduate student to participate in UROP and SURP to spur their independence, creativity, and project management.

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

The big achievement as a result of undergraduate research experience is empowering the students to develop their own strengths, intellectual, practical and transferable skills, and personal attributes such as teamwork, data analysis, and communications skills. Their experience in my lab opens their eyes into topics and fields in science they never thought about, and increases their interest in pursuing their research career. I feel pleased when I hear from some of them that they were inspired to pursue a career in research career after they had the experience as undergraduate students in my lab.

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

My mentorship skills have evolved and improved through mentoring tremendous undergraduate students. Working with undergraduate students in the research setting helped me understand and appreciate the diversity and to value the differences in my team members, and enabled me to vary my approach to the individual and to the situation.

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

Remember four keys for your success in research: setting goals, passion, perseverance, and dedication to the work you are doing. Armed with these values, you are capable of accomplishing anything you want to.

Research Interests: My research focus is to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and postpartum depression in order to develop more effective therapies for these disorders. I am particularly interested in studying how prenatal aversive conditions such as nutritional deficits and stress disrupt neurodevelopment and increase the susceptibility to neuropsychiatric disorders in the offspring. My research integrates genetic, neuronal circuits and neurotransmitters’ pathways, and behavioral approaches.

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '18 Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
Nov. '18 Justyna M. Sosna
Oct. '18 Chen Li
Sep. '18 Shahrdad Lotfipour
Aug. '18 Zoe Klemfuss
Jul. '18 Patrick Rafter
Jun. '18 Kelli Sharp
May. '18 Gilverto Q. Conchas
Apr. '18 Ozdal Boyraz
Mar. '18 Amal Alachkar
Feb. '18 Andrea Nicholas
Jan. '18 Wenqi Wang