Rommel Santos credits his research experience with teaching him to think like a scientist. By being intimately involved throughout the entire life of a project, he was able to see all of the knowledge, skills and processes that lead to research success. Rommelís dedication to his research was recognized by his receipt of the 2014 Chancellorís Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for the School of Biological Sciences.

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

In Dr. Susana Cohen-Coryís lab, we are investigating the many molecular and cellular mechanisms that wire the visual neural circuit during embryonic development. For my project, I have been examining the role of a transmembrane protein called Down syndrome cell-adhesion molecule (DSCAM) in vertebrate animal models. We speculate that DSCAM help guides the directionality of dendrite and axon growth in neurons.

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

During the spring quarter of my sophomore year, I had attended an annual meeting held by the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education. At the meeting, I had the pleasure to talk to graduate students who were doing research in neurobiology. They spoke highly of the work they did in the lab and recommended me to get involved. Eager to start, I scouted for potential neurobiology professors by emailing them through the faculty listings. I did not have much luck emailing professors. However, approaching professors during their office hour was easier to show how interested I was in getting involved in research. When I went to Dr. Cohen-Coryís office hour, she saw my motivation to be a researcher and gave me a chance to be part of her lab.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Personally, one of the most thrilling aspects of research is that you learn to become responsible in crafting your own project. Starting from formulating the hypothesis to analyzing the data are all critical moments that require you to think like a scientist. I found that I had to read a wide array of primary research papers to holistically understand my field of research.

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

One of my many highlights during research was when Dr. Cohen-Cory and I prepared a lab tour for her class of 30 students. It would be the first time she would ever do a lab tour for an entire class. I always enjoyed sharing with others what I do in the lab, so I suggested Dr. Cohen-Cory the idea to bring her class to the lab for fun. It was an entertaining experience showcasing our animal model (Xenopus laevis tadpoles) and demonstrating some of the many experiments we had in the lab. It was blast to do and we are excited to do another tour again in the near future.

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

After I graduate, I plan on working as a junior research specialist in Dr. Cohen-Cory lab for a year before applying for graduate school. I will still be working on my current projects and gathering data that I can hopefully get published. I think being involved in research, staying on top of the fieldís recent findings, and getting better at designing experiments is preparing me for the demanding life style of graduate school.

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

When talking with a professor about their research, donít be afraid to pitch in new relevant ideas that complement the goals in their lab. Itís good to think big, but be realistic about your idea because of the availability of resources, funding, and time. Professors are always on the lookout for impactful ideas that can make a huge difference. Whether it is improving a protocol in their lab or introducing a new technique, there is a limitless pool of ideas to take out of. Even though you are an undergrad now, itís never too early to start thinking like a graduate student.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '15 Ka Hei (Eric) Chan
Nov. '15 Timna Medovoy
Oct. '15 Soraya Davia
Sep. '15 Amanda Nili
Aug. '15 Soo Song
Jul. '15 Tian Harrison
Jun. '15 Rommel Santos
May. '15 Mariyah Saiduddin
Apr. '15 Angel Rodriguez
Mar. '15 Sarah Tang
Feb. '15 Jay Tolentino
Jan. '15 Yuhao Ma