Undergraduate Research

April 2018, three very talented undergrads left our lab - two graduated and one is pursuing interests outside of science. Below you'll find reflections from each student regarding their time in the lab and undergraduate research.  We'll miss you Ben, Monica, and Meli!


The recent graduates and Carlson lab alumni Monica and Ben

The recent graduates and Carlson lab alumni Monica and Ben

Tell us about yourselves: what are you majoring and what are your post-graduation plans?


Major: Molecular Biology

Minor: Neuroscience, Chemistry

Post-grad plans: Lab Tech Position at Penn and eventually Graduate School

Ben: I am majoring in Biological Sciences and will be attending University of Virginia School of Medicine after graduation.

Meli: Hello, my name is Melania Linderman and I am majoring in Politics and Philosophy - while also minoring in French Language and Literature and Korean Language. After graduation, I hope to complete a Master's degree in International Affairs. 

 When did you start working in our lab?

Monica: Started in the Lab: January 2016

Ben: I began working in the Carlson lab in the January 2016.

Meli: I began working in Carlson Lab in June of 2017. 


What made you interested in scientific research?

Monica: I've always been interested in scientific research.

Ben: I was interested in having the opportunity to learn about a scientific field through firsthand experience and wanted to better my understanding of the research process while hoping to make a contribution to the lab and scientific community.

Meli: At the time when I joined the lab I was a pre-med chemistry major trying to get a feel for what path I wanted to pursue in life. I was unsure of whether I wanted to work in a hospital, a research lab, or explore something else entirely. Although I did end up deciding to pursue something else, I decided to remain in the lab as long as possible because of the welcoming environment that encouraged creativity and innovation. 


Out of all of the projects that you’ve worked on, techniques that you’ve used, and data you’ve gathered – what has been your favorite part of working in the lab?

Monica: My favorite project so far has been determining the effects of extracellular zinc during X. laevis fertilization. It has been a great opportunity to mentor several other undergraduates getting them involved on the project. It has given my lab partner and I more experience with developing and struggling with new protocols. These last few weeks being able to have a successful experiment on something we have been working to figure out since November has been really rewarding.

My favorite part of working in the lab was getting to work with Ben for two years. We've shared many successes and failures together. We have helped each other learn and grow as young scientists. I will miss having him as a lab partner, but I know he will do amazing things in medical school. 

Ben: During my time in lab, I have most enjoyed the opportunity to work with another undergraduate (Monica) in mutually improving our scientific skills and understanding, the friendly, cooperative climate in our lab, and the chance to work directly with a model organism.

Meli: My favorite part of working in the lab was working together with the other lab members to produce original results that I then could present to other labs and departments. Having the ability to have an original scientific question to research, looking for my own solutions when things did not go exactly as planned, and personally presenting my findings was very important in shaping my independence as an academic and improved my confidence as a leader in all areas of my life.  


What (of the many) accomplishments that you’ve made in the last three years are you most proud of?

Monica: I am most proud of the confocal microscopy imaging part of the zinc project. It has taken months of going back to a protocol, reassessing and retesting different aspects to finally figure it out. With the guidance of both Anne and Katie, we have finally seen progress on this part of the project.

Ben: I am proud of the progress I have made during the last years, in terms of my understanding of both the material and scientific research process. Additionally, I am impressed with my improvements at various protocols I have learned while in lab.

Meli: In the lab, what I am most proud of was receiving an undergraduate research grant to work in Carlson Lab over the summer of 2017 and present my own research in the undergraduate symposium. I am also very happy to have received a Nationality Room Scholarship with the help of Dr. Anne Carlson to study abroad in South Korea over the summer of 2018. 


Were there ever any obstacles that you encountered and overcame during the last three years?

Monica: Yes, there have been many obstacles. During the first year, it was getting used to working with primary cells. Sometimes the frogs or eggs just don't do what you want them to do and you have to get used it and be flexible. Another obstacle was working with the fluorometer to determine the levels of zinc in the jelly coat. After spending months trying to figure things out having nothing work was tough, but it taught us to try a different approach. Then there was the confocal microscopy obstacle. We had to take a few steps back, reassess the protocol and keep trying. Ultimately, we were able to make it work and it has been extremely rewarding.

Ben: Recently, we had difficulty in optimizing our conditions and methods for a specific staining and imaging protocol. At times this work was frustrating, as initially our results varied greatly for unknown reasons. This forced us to step back and examine all aspects of the protocol to determine potential issues. This was a slow process that occasionally left me unsatisfied due to the variability; however, after many thoughtful changes and attempts it now seems that we have surpassed these problems and our procedure is working successfully. This experience was an important reminder to myself to focus on the bigger picture and ultimate goal, while having the patience to make the changes along the way.

Meli: Deciding which direction to pursue in life was a large obstacle for me over the last three years. Being able to make the decision to choose something that I have a passion for while also pursuing my interest in scientific research simultaneously was the perfect opportunity for me to grow in many different areas. 



What advice do you have for new undergraduates starting in a research lab?

Monica: My advice to new undergraduates is to ask a lot of questions. Everyone in the lab is willing to help you learn and grow. You will make mistakes - I have made a ton, but it is those mistakes that you will learn from.

Ben: Although everything may seem overwhelming at first, if you continue to work hard, make an effort to understand the procedures, and ask questions you will learn everything you need to succeed in lab.

Meli: My advice for new undergraduates beginning in research labs is this: even if you are unsure of what path and career to pursue in life, working in a research lab will help in ways you never even thought possible. Performing your own research will teach you independence, force you to be a leader and think of your own solutions, and will give you experience in teamwork and group co-ordination. So, even if you are unsure, take the plunge and go for it - it is definitely worth it!

Anne Carlson