CURF: Becoming a Researcher in the Kuwajima Lab

I had developed an interest in research in high school after I had taken a honors biology. My biology teacher would sometimes invite college students who had graduated from our high school to present whatever STEM related research they had done. I was impressed by how complex all their projects were and how they were all researching things I thought only those with like tons of years of lab experience could research. Overall, it was this experience that mainly kickstarted my interest in biological/STEM research, so much so that I took a class at my high school which gave us the opportunity to carry out our own experiments on model organisms. 

When I got into Pitt, I decided to look for a research mentor early on because I knew I wouldn’t have time during the school year. The summer before freshman year, I was able to ask around on group chats and other online forms of communication for the names of some research mentors and I contacted a few of them. Eventually, Dr Takaaki Kuwajima got back to me (and he was the only one to do so), so I set up a meeting with him and he be came my mentor! 

What appealed to me about Dr Kuwajima’s work was the fact that his research dealt with eyes and the nervous system. In high school, my research project concerned the effect of blue light on the reaction times of fruit flies and I was interested in how the eyes and the nervous system played a role in the reaction times (but I wasn’t able to study the effects in detail because of the limited resources at my school).

Advice I would give to a student who want to conduct research but might not know where to start is to first try to list what you would be interested in researching before reaching out. If you don’t know who to reach out to in terms of getting research opportunities, I would try to search up people of interest on Pitt’s faculty directory site, talking to professors, or looking out for events regarding research opportunities. There are a lot of ways to get involved with research, it all depends on how much effort you put in!

I am on the premed track right now, and I feel like regardless of what track anyone is on, research helps build up skills in logic and deduction ability. Since research is all about figuring out solutions to problems, you will build up the ability to deduce the best way to solve a problem given your current situation, resources, and ability. The ability to deduce solutions to a problem is helpful in a huge variety of fields, including the medical field, where you will be faced with patients who have many issues and you must deduce the best solution given many external factors.

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