Om Chitnis knew he wanted to get into research as soon as he graduated from high school. He had a deep interest in biology, and saw research as a way to become more intimately engaged with his this interest. By getting involved so early in his undergraduate studies, Om was able to translate what he learned in the lab into his classes, greatly enhancing his academic work. He also credits his research experience with a tremendous increase in his critical thinking skills. UROP is pleased to recognize Om for the passion he brought to his pursuit of undergraduate research.

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

I do research at the UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, where I work in the Wood Lab under Ph.D. candidate Rianne Campbell. I study how cocaine alters neuronal function within the brain to promote cocaine-seeking behaviors. More specifically, I examine how cocaine alters epigenetic regulation of gene expression and synaptic plasticity within the nucleus accumbens, a brain region critical for processing reward, to promote cocaine-associated memory formation.

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

I first got involved in research the summer after high school in 2015 because I already had a strong interest in biology. I joined a diabetes research lab at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, by contacting several faculty members in subjects I was interested in, and finding one that had an opening. This experience had a very positive impact on me, and I knew I wanted to continue doing research in my undergraduate career. Here at UCI, I got involved in research by emailing Dr. Wood in the fall quarter of my freshman year because I was interested in his research topic. I got a response from him saying that his lab was full, but they would be needing new undergrads in spring. I did not give up there, so I made sure I met with a graduate student from his lab so that I would be the first choice when they did need new people. I was eventually able to join the lab in spring quarter, and the rest is history!

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has enhanced my education by exposing me to different laboratory techniques and challenging my thinking. As a freshman, I had not taken many biology classes, but in the lab I had to learn about topics in my research field very rapidly. I benefitted from this tremendously because it forced me to think critically about what we are doing in an experiment, as well as why we are doing it. I also learned how to effectively read scientific papers, which is a very important skill in any science-related field.

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

My favorite experience in research has been presenting my findings. It was exciting to finally see the data from hours and hours of work all form a cohesive presentation, and I enjoyed sharing my findings with others. I also like working and collaborating with other researchers in the Wood lab, as it is a very supportive environment.

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

My future plans are to go to medical school and become a physician. Being involved in research has prepared me for this because I work with mice, and am thus directly involved with living organisms. This puts me face to face with biological systems and has peaked my interest in the field of surgery.

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

I recommend that you first research different professors and find out which labs you are interested in. You will be spending a lot of time and effort in a research lab, so make sure youíre working in a field you are passionate about. There is such a wide range of research topics that are being studied at UCI, that there really is something for everyone. After you have found a few labs you are interested in, email the professors and wait for responses. Iíll be honest; getting replies from professors may seem difficult, but if you keep at it you will get some eventually and all your hard work will pay off.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '18 Om Chitnis
Nov. '18 Eduardo Cruz
Oct. '18 Gabrielle Elena McGahey
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