Jimmy Phan has used his research experience to greatly expand his education. Although his work in a neurobiological research lab has been difficult for him, a psychology major, he has found the challenges it has presented to be extremely rewarding. He has gained hands-on expertise in a new field and gained insights that will help him achieve success in his future career. UROP is pleased to recognize Jimmy for exploring new interests through undergraduate research.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

I am an undergraduate research assistant for the UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) and our focus is on Alzheimer’s disease. My principal investigator is Dr. LaFerla, Dean of the School of Biological Sciences, and our team consists of post-doctoral researchers and lab managers such as David, Laura, Stefania, Celia, my mentor Alessandra, and six other undergraduate researchers.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I transferred to UCI during Fall of 2015 from a community college and I started off doing research for the psychology and social behavior department under Dr. Susan Charles. It was not until Spring of 2016 that a friend referred me for an interview to join the UCI MIND lab. I started working in the lab immediately after the interview during the summer of 2016. I was assigned to work under my postdoctoral research mentor, Dr. Alessandra and I have been working with her and the team ever since.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

I am not a science major, but this research lab has taught me a lot about Alzheimer’s disease on a molecular level, how to analyze scientific research papers without understanding any scientific terms, and how to suture; I also learned many experimental procedures.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

Being a non-science major in a neurobiological research lab can be quite difficult. My favorite experience was when I went into the microscope room to analyze dendrites for our stained hippocampus slides, everything I did and learned in the research lab “clicked” in my mind. I will admit that I was clueless about half the things I was doing, but once I went into that microscope room everything just made sense. I understood everything that I was doing and why I was doing it from there on and I started to read research articles more efficiently and effectively. Not only was the research team always there to answer my questions and to empower me to advance my knowledge in neurobiology, but they also encouraged me to present at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium during the spring quarter of 2017, which was a very enriching experience for me.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

My short-term goal is to attend medical school to specialize in psychiatry with subspecialty training in psychosomatic medicine and/or addiction medicine. I hope to utilize my future credentials to aid the underserved community by educating them about mental health, preventative health care, and to provide free health care services by being a proctor for a free health clinic. Research has given me the opportunity to understand how and why Alzheimer’s disease occurs, which will be of use when I am a clinician in the future. In terms of how the research lab helped prepare me to meet my goals, I would like to highlight a life lesson that I learned in the lab. Research is more than learning about scientific knowledge, learning how to run specific experiments, and it is more than the outcome. To me, this research lab taught me a lot about how to overcome failure. Failing is something most people fear, but in research experiments, it occurs all the time. Sometimes it is your fault, sometimes it is the design of the experiment, and sometimes it is the equipment that we have, but at the end of the day, no matter how many times I failed or messed up, I had to learn how to keep my head up high and move on. This gave me the opportunity to understand that, in life, it is not always what happens to you, but rather what you do about it that matters most.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Do not be afraid to reach out and e-mail labs or faculty members that share your research interests. Before I transferred into UCI, I asked many undergraduate students about how hard it is to get into research. The students always responded saying that it was extremely hard, but when I asked them how many labs they applied to, the answer was always “none”. I encourage you to reach out to professors or faculty members to join their lab or to ask if they are interested in mentoring you on a certain experiment that you have in mind. As people always say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Past Researchers of the Month

Sep. '18 Jimmy Phan
Aug. '18 Grace Aileen Hernandez
Jul. '18 Lani Hisako Matsumura
Jun. '18 Philip Hwang
May. '18 Daniela Macias
Apr. '18 Marco Antonio Miranda
Mar. '18 Beverly Alicia Mendoza
Feb. '18 Giana Angotti
Jan. '18 Daryl Chau Nguyen