For Christine Wang, her undergraduate research has allowed her to engage her curiosity and develop an appreciation for the process of scientific discovery. She has also developed her critical thinking skills, which has made classroom knowledge much easier for her to pick up. The most important message that Christine has learned from her research is to accept mistakes, move on, and learn from them; they are a necessary part of the growth process. Research has also helped Christine focus on what she wants to do in the future; as a result of her experience in the lab, she has decided to go on to pursue a medical degree.

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

Over half the American population is infected with herpes and can benefit from a therapeutic vaccine. Under the guidance of Dr. Lbachir BenMohamed, at the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Immunology, my research focuses on the development of a human herpes vaccine through a novel “asymptomatic” epitope approach to induce protective T cell immunity. I am involved in in vivo evaluation of human immune responses to vaccine contenders, preceded by in vitro immunogenicity and protective efficacy studies in animal models. This allows us to pre-clinically assess T cell epitope-based vaccine candidates.

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

During my sophomore year, I made hospital visits on behalf of UCI athletics to the terminally ill floor of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. This experience revealed to me how medicine lightened the burdens these children faced every day. But, in this experience, I also realized that the field of medicine was greatly lacking. For many of these children, fatal diseases had been transmitted from birth, therapeutic vaccines were unavailable, and current treatments could not ensure the future. It was then that I considered exploring the research opportunities made available at UCI. I started to define my interests by searching for recent advances in vaccine development and was immediately intrigued by several of Dr. BenMohamed’s publications. After contacting Dr. BenMohamed, my interests were further engaged by the lab’s unique approach to understand the underlying mechanisms of the herpes simplex virus pathogenicity and, thus, its progress towards a therapeutic medicine design. Although I did not know much about immunology at the time and had only basic knowledge from under-division biology courses, Dr. BenMohamed challenged me to excel in his laboratory and it was then that I knew I could devote my full attention and time to his lab.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has helped me make the most out of my education by allowing me to engage my curiosity and by providing a scaffold for knowledge. After experiencing first-hand ongoing scientific efforts and working alongside professionals of various backgrounds, I developed an appreciation for findings that we now accept as basic knowledge. Working in the lab has also allowed me to adopt a researcher’s outlook when presented new class topics. I would find myself thinking critically and challenging my knowledge on presented subjects, while unafraid to offer my own interpretations. Consequently, classroom topics became considerably easier for me to pick up.

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

My favorite experience was when I was granted my first personal project. Since it was my first try at this, I actually managed to sabotage my project before the experiments even began because I jumped the gun. I mean, after months of practice, I had successfully, or should I say unsuccessfully, contaminated my entire cell culture before completing step one. It was pretty embarrassing and memorable for me. To this day, I have not made the same mistake again. The message I want to transmit from this is to embrace and learn from your past errors because these mistakes are necessary for growth and further improvement.

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

My future plan is to pursue a medical degree. Before joining the lab, I had no idea what I wanted as a career. I was incredibly fortunate to have Dr. BenMohamed mentor me. Through his continuously challenging me in the lab, I recognized many strengths that I had previously not known. My involvement with research has shown me that a strong work ethic, passion, and respect can help you achieve goals that may seem hard to attain. Through this, I have realized my own strengths and capabilities, and I plan to apply these experiences to meet my future goals.

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

My advice is to go for it! Explore your interests early and read plenty of publications. If something piques your attention, spend time defining your interests and exploring advances in the field before applying to a lab. This way, your experience will be much more enjoyable and the faculty will easily recognize your dedication as well as potential.

I think it is imperative as a student researcher to bring a positive attitude and willingness to learn to lab as well as to be assertive and persistent. You get what you put in, so the most important takeaway is to be available and offer to help the faculty on various projects. This will benefit you because it will help you stand out as a valuable asset in the lab.

Participating in undergraduate research can be a great opportunity to challenge yourself and prove to yourself what you can accomplish.

Past Researchers of the Month

Oct. '14 Christine Wang
Sep. '14 Keith Sakata
Aug. '14 Leslie May Legaspi
Jul. '14 Nujhat Nabila Ali
Jun. '14 Eline Kocharyan
May. '14 Julian Smith
Apr. '14 Johan Mosquera
Mar. '14 Nadia Nikroo
Feb. '14 Andra Whipple
Jan. '14 Tam Phan