Kyle is a 4th year Immunology & Infection student and a member of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College. He’s an active volunteer with Week of Welcome and UASU events, and is part of the Ualberta Ambassadors program. I sat down with him to talk about his experience with the Undergraduate Research Initiative as a researcher and as a volunteer.
How did you first get involved with the Undergraduate Research Initiative?
In the faculty of science there’s this atmosphere of research, and that’s what pushed me to start looking for research opportunities. I ended up on the Department of Physiology website, because I had taken some physiology classes in the past and I really liked what I did. I found one prof who was brand new to the U of A, Dr. Jessica Yue, who was looking for students to help with her research. I had sent a couple emails to other profs before that and didn’t get any responses, but she emailed me back right away and brought me in for an interview. I started off as a volunteer in the lab, and eventually we had a meeting in the winter semester and she asked if I was interested in doing a summer research project with her.. She told me that there was funding available through the URI, which I hadn’t heard of before. I looked into it and applied for the URI stipend, which I got in the summer of 2016, and I ended up spending the summer with her, and a whole other year with her after that working on an independent research project.
Describe your research and methods to someone with no background in the field of physiology.
My research project was focused on diabetes. We looked at the hormone glucagon, which we infused into certain regions of the brain and we tested how the glucagon affected fat secretions from the liver. My research was basically seeing if and how the brain and the liver communicate with each other.
Most of my work was with lab rats, actually. I got to do brain and vascular surgeries, catheterized their veins, technical stuff like that. Those surgeries were prerequisites to experiment days. On those days we would give rats different treatments and test how they affected the fat secretions from the liver. I would collect data on experiment days, and after that I would analyse the data and compare the results between different treatment groups.
What were the outcomes of your research? Did anything stand out to you?
Long story short, there were two big test groups that we did. In the first group I got really great data, everything seemed amazing. But the second group gave us less consistent results. We had a fairly small sample size and the data we got was very preliminary, so all in all the data wasn’t that great.
With the independent research project I did two presentations, one for the research proposal for the class, and one where I got to present actual data. I also wrote a research paper at the end of it.
How does your research fit into the larger field of physiology?
I would say it has really interesting implications. It’s far down the road from my research, but if what we were doing actually works, and if our hypothesis that glucagon does lower fat secretions, glucagon has the potential to be a therapeutic for diabetes, and obesity as well.
If someone was in 1st year and interested in research, what advice would you give them?
I would say you don’t necessarily need to stay within your field of education. I’m an immunology student, but I ended up doing research in physiology, and I feel like even though they’re both sciences, they have very different ways of thinking - one is very cellular, and the other is very full-body focused. I would say don’t restrict yourself to a specific field, and don’t enter it with the mindset of already knowing what exactly you want to study. I feel like I found what I actually loved while doing research, not before.
Something I loved about the URI stipend is that they value this kind of interdisciplinary work. I feel like a lot of other research programs don’t necessarily care about being interdisciplinary. Also my grades weren’t the best either, but that didn’t matter to getting the URI stipend. They cared more about the actual work I was doing than my grades, which I thought was really valuable.
What’s it like being a volunteer with the URI?
My official role is a Peer Undergraduate Research Liaison, or a PURL. We spend about three hours in the office per week, and each of us has our own project we’ve undertaken. Our projects focus on engaging with research on campus. My project is organizing the URI’s mentorship awards, where students can nominate their mentors and to help encourage that idea of mentorship and leading on campus. We’re also helping with FURCA, the Festival for Undergraduate Research and Creative activities, which is really cool.
Is there else you'd like to add that we haven’t covered yet?
I feel like sometimes people have this idea that a lot of people do research just to put it on their resume or CVs, but I feel like every student at the U of A should be open to pursuing research. We have a really great opportunity going to the U of A, especially since it’s a research institution, and there aren’t many of those in Canada. Every student should try something research related while they go to school here. I feel like it would really benefit your experience as a student, and also contribute to your understanding of the world in general.
Victoria deJong is a 4th year Political Science student and a Research Analyst for the University of Alberta Students’ Union. This interview is the first in a series of interviews with past and current participants in the Undergraduate Research Initiative. Questions, comments, and concerns about this article can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.