In pursuing psychology research, Aneesah Akbar chose to broaden her education by working outside her major. By doing so, she has discovered new ways of looking at her biological sciences studies. Seeing how the fields interact has given her insights that remaining within a single area would not have presented. Aneesah feels that her experience has given her a tremendous boost as she pursues her future education and career. UROP is pleased to recognize Aneesah for her passionate pursuit of undergraduate research.

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

I specifically do research with the Dr. J. Zoe Klemfuss Child Narratives Lab (CNL). Our lab mainly studies development of child memory and recollection of past events, as well as how these are influenced by a variety of social factors. We also look at the implications of child memory in the broader society, including as part of witness testimony in court cases.

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

Getting involved in psychology research was actually an unexpected part of my college experience. The CNL was my first involvement with research. At the start of my second year at UCI, I was like most pre-medical students, searching for research opportunities to get involved in within biology. But, when I heard about the CNL through my Psychology of Memory professor, I ended up applying because I was truly excited to learn about child cognitive development.

When I first started as a Research Assistant, some of my excitement turned into nerves as I realized I was the only pre-med, biology major in a lab full of psychological sciences and criminology majors. However, I have been a part of the lab for over a year now, and these same people have become some of my best mentors and friends. The research I have done has helped me grow as a future medical school applicant more than I could have expected, and I can confidently say that it has been one of the best experiences I have had at UCI.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Getting involved in research has exposed me to a completely different side of academia. I think my experience in a psychological sciences lab has uniquely complemented my education, especially as a biological sciences student. I have learned to approach science through a lens other than biological structure and function. For example, in my classes I learn about the details of brain anatomy and physiology, while in research I learn about how all of these parts function on the conscious level. I think these two fields of study have combined to shape me into a more well-rounded and knowledgeable student.

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

My favorite experience with data collection with the CNL would have to be when I was working directly with young children as I led them through study protocol. I had so much fun working with adorable three to five year old children who were so excited to participate in our activities.

However, the most impactful experience I have had in research so far was this past summer, when I had the opportunity to conduct an independent research project through SURP under the guidance of a doctoral student in the lab. The project analyzed how the emotions of mock jurors, in response to sensitive child testimony, can affect their verdict and sentencing decisions. I learned so much about what it takes to actually complete a research project, from design, to data collection and analysis, to presentation. Not only did I learn to be independent and efficient because of the number of responsibilities I had, I also experienced the satisfaction of seeing all of my hard work come together as I consolidated my findings. This process definitely helped me gain a new appreciation for research.

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

In the future, I am planning on applying to medical school, and I hope to become either a pediatrician or pediatric anesthesiologist. My experience with the CNL has taught me how to interact with children of various ages, as well as their parents. Through research, I have learned a lot about how children develop memories, how their memories are influenced by relationships with caregivers, and how adults react to those memories, all of which have allowed me to better understand the adult-child dynamic that I will see in my future career. On the other hand, research has also helped me continue to develop essential skills for my future career, including professionalism, time-management, and teamwork.

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

I think students often donít know where to begin looking for research opportunities. Luckily, UCI is a great institution for research, and we have so many research labs that study almost anything you can think of. I would encourage students entering UCI to begin looking for opportunities as soon as they can. I would start by looking to see if your professors have research labs you are interested in, and asking them if they have any openings in their lab. This can seem intimidating, but, in my experience, most professors are more than happy to see students taking interest in their work. Additionally, if you find an interesting lab that does not belong to one of your professors, cold emailing is often an effective and professional way to introduce yourself and express your interest. Overall, I would also recommend applying broadly to maximize your chances of getting a great position!

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '19 Aneesah Syeda Akbar
Nov. '19 Jennifer Fong
Oct. '19 Amanda Woodworth
Sep. '19 Yvette Sanders
Aug. '19 Amber Marie Obenshain
Jul. '19 Gurleen Samra
Jun. '19 Yiwei Gong
May. '19 William Gerald Smith
Apr. '19 Emeizmi Mandagi
Mar. '19 Whitney Zhang
Feb. '19 William Agnew
Jan. '19 Sarah Mahoney