Phenomenal year for undergraduates presenting research on the big stage

Five UAB students will present at the World Congress on Undergraduate Research in Oldenburg, Germany.

ResearchExpoJoomlaTop row, left to right: Kerri Tang, Kenneth Davis, Allie Haynes. Bottom row: Saakshi Thukral, Jason Zhang.Five University of Alabama at Birmingham undergraduate students will present their research in Germany this spring, another will present in Great Britain, and at least 66 more UAB undergraduates will present their research at Kennesaw State University, Georgia. Those sites are the hosts for the world, British and United States conferences on undergraduate research.

“This is a phenomenal year for UAB undergraduates sharing their research on the national and international stage,” said Gareth Jones, assistant director of the UAB Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research. All the students are members of the UAB Honors College.

“I hope to get a culture experience of a lifetime,” said Kenneth Davis, a UAB junior and native of Selma, who is one of the five UAB students who will present research at the World Congress on Undergraduate Research, or WCUR, in Oldenburg, Germany, in May.

“I am also looking forward to making international connections — you can’t really have too many of those,” Davis said. “Most importantly, I hope to grow as a researcher and witness the wide array of topics that are being explored by scientists across the globe.”

Allie Haynes, a sophomore from Memphis, Tennessee, says she is excited to meet WCUR student researchers from other countries with interests similar to hers. “I am interested to hear other researchers’ perspectives on common social justice issues.”

At UAB, undergraduate researchers like Davis and Haynes are able to work with topnotch UAB faculty and their lab groups — often with personal attention.

“From start to end, I had support from the lab team.” – Kerri Tang

Trust and support

“My principal investigator trusts me and let me start an independent project, which is very uncommon for undergrads,” said Jason Zhang, a WCUR presenter and sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, who works with Zsuzsanna Bebok, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, UAB School of Medicine. “We also have a very close friendship and mentorship; we would talk about a lot of things outside of research, such as politics, history, life experiences. She also has invited our lab group and me to dinner at her house.”

Kerri Tang, a UAB junior from Hoover, Alabama, who will also present at WCUR, says she was able to do a summer independent research project in the lab of David Schwebel, Ph.D., university professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences.

“From start to end, I had support from the lab team, whether it was helping me refine my research question or assessing my presentation of results,” Tang said. “Not only did I receive help, but we were all encouraged to provide feedback on each other’s projects at weekly lab meetings. I feel very lucky and grateful to work in a lab that emphasizes collaboration in the world of research.”

The fifth UAB presenter at WCUR, Saakshi Thukral, a sophomore from Nashville, Tennessee, does research with Jeremy Day, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology, UAB School of Medicine.

“The best part of my research experience,” Thukral said, “has been working with my graduate student, Katherine Savell. Whether it is her project or mine, she is always willing to help and answer any questions I may have. She has taught me what it means to be passionate about science and how to give something your all. Overall, she has been a great influence on me, both in and outside of lab.”

Davis does research with Jun Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, UAB College of Arts and Sciences. Haynes does research with Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights and associate professor of human rights, peace studies and international politics in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and the Department of Anthropology, UAB College of Arts and Sciences.

In Great Britain, UAB undergraduate Daniel Mendoza will present his research at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research this month, and the 65-plus students going to Georgia will present their research at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research.

UAB on the map

Why attend these research conferences?

Jones says:

  • “It opens the eyes for these students to see hundreds of other students presenting. It connects them all to the larger research world.”
  • “The UAB students get additional opportunities to practice presenting their research. That prepares them for life in so many ways, from talking to their parents to interviewing for medical school.”
  • “Third, it’s great for our school — it puts UAB on the map.”

Jones will accompany the students to Germany, and he will host a UAB graduate fair at the conference.

The UAB students also act as ambassadors by sharing what the university has done for them.

“UAB is underrated on national rankings and under-appreciated,” Zhang said. “As a student here, I feel supported in all levels, from friends and peers to administrators. I feel that, if I wished to create or do something here, I can always find a way to do it. The amount of resources here is invaluable. And an opportunity like this trip, fully funded by the university, is unimaginable to my friends attending other institutes.”

Zhang has already had the opportunity to be a clinical intern at UAB Hospital last summer, and he will travel to Dubai this month as a University Innovation fellow, a program of Stanford University Institute of Design. There, he will learn about entrepreneurial and design thinking, as well as present his UAB team’s proposal to boost student involvement, Project Blazer.

Davis — a double-major in chemistry and mathematics, with a Japanese minor, who is also working on his master’s degree in mathematics — said one of the best experiences UAB has provided was the opportunity to study in Japan for three months after his first year of college: “I was able to share the experience with wonderful people from other nations and U.S. states.”

Deep dish pizza

Tang says she was able to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of Chicago last fall with 20 UAB peers, making them the second-largest university group at this international meeting. At one lunch, she sat next to a member of the United Nations reproductive agency.

“We sparked a conversation over visiting Chicago for the first time and being blown away by the city’s deep-dish pizza,” Tang said. “That evolved into a discussion of our work interests, which revealed that we both had passions for advancing women’s and children’s health through research and support services. We exchanged contact information, and she encouraged me to contact her if I wished to engage with her program. I have UAB — and deep-dish pizza — to thank for this unique networking opportunity.”

The five UAB WCUR students span the breadth of the UAB campus.

Davis is a student in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. Haynes is majoring in economics in the UAB Collat School of Business, with minors in mathematics and Spanish. Tang is majoring in public health in the UAB School of Public Health, with a concentration in global health. She is also in the Fast Track Master of Public Health program, with a concentration in maternal and child health leadership and policy.

Zhang is majoring in biomedical engineering, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint program of the UAB School of Engineering and the UAB School of Medicine. Thukral is majoring in neuroscience, with minors in chemistry and biology, in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. She is also in the Fast Track Master of Public Health program, with a concentration in epidemiology, in the UAB School of Public Health.