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A Day in the Life of an Undergraduate Research Assistant

February 13, 2018

As undergraduate research assistants, as well as students of the University of California, Merced, running experiments, making it to class, and making sure you have enough time to do everything else in between requires a lot of planning. In this article Academic Advising Mentors, Akil Hamsath and Angelo Aragon will give you some insight on what their typical day as undergraduate researchers looks like.

 

Akil Hamsath

Chemical Sciences, Senior
Academic Advising Mentor

My name is Akil Hamsath and I am an undergraduate research assistant for Dr. Ryan Baxter’s organic chemistry laboratory. A typical day consists of me going to class, work and straight to lab. Time management and dedication is key to succeed especially if you have more on your plate than you realize. What helps me get through the day and fulfill all my responsibilities is to have a set routine for every day. My research consists of method development and synthetic strategies of radical organic chemistry. 

 

Specifically, I develop efficient synthetic methods as well as synthesize derivatives for small cancer fighting drugs such as parvaquone. These drugs can then be further functionalized with different variations of the methods we develop. My experiments usually take about a day, so every day is different and everyday requires a different amount of time than others. Sometime my research requires me to stay in the lab until 12am. When this happens I immediately switch around my responsibilities for the next day while still keeping them in high priority. All in all, doing research, going to class and having a job has taught me that time is malleable and we should not be stressed if something takes more time than we thought. It all boils down to priorities and how much dedication we ultimately want to give to any task.

 

Overall, I believe everyone should try and obtain research experience. The people you meet and make connections with will last for longer than most people realize. The professor and graduate students I work with in the lab have taught me not only better lab techniques but also real life applications and problems that most classes do not.

Angelo Aragon

Biological Sciences, Senior
Academic Advising Mentor

My name is Angelo Aragon and I am undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Anna Beaudin’s lab. A typical day for me is one that comprises of attending class, going to lab and work, on top of the weekly club meeting. With all my responsibilities as a graduating senior, I learned to be the most efficient with my time by following a strict weekly schedule that I set up for myself each semester. The use of an online calendar has been the most helpful to me because I can plan for my exams, experiments, and other assignments weeks ahead of time. I have only started working in Dr. Anna Beaudin’s lab this past summer, but the experience has been beneficial to my career and field of study.

 

Dr. Anna Beaudin’s lab mainly studies hematopoietic stem cells, which are cells that help form the adult blood system. Using a lineage tracing mouse model, Dr. Beaudin has identified a developmentally-restricted hematopoietic stem cell that is found in the fetal stages of life but disappear into adulthood. I have been in the lab for less than a year, so I mainly performed chore tasks such as re-racking pipette tips and cutting filter paper, washing and sterilizing glassware by autoclaving, making staining media, DNA isolation, and disposing of biohazard waste. These tasks were tedious but completing them in a timely manner was important for all people in the lab so that everyone’s experiments ran smoothly. With chores, I also obtained a great amount of experience observing graduate students and other undergraduates with their experiments, and would help out with single staining cells or help run samples on a flow cytometer. I gradually developed confidence in my skills this past semester and have recently been assigned a project attempting to understand the definitive progenitor of red blood cells from hematopoietic stem cell derived precursors.

 

With my new project, I start my days at 8am where I check on my mice in the vivarium and attend a group meeting for my lab or work. I then attend my classes, and in between my two or three hour gaps I am usually in lab working on a chore or at work. I always run my experiments on days when I have the most availability. My experiments typically take the entire work day, which is about six hours, so I try to not have many gaps to leave the lab throughout the day. I try to schedule my days to end at 5pm because that is around the time that everyone else in the lab ends theirs. I remember Dr. Beaudin’s advice to me that I incorporate into my day, which is about keeping a balance between my professional and personal life. By evenly dividing time between my classes and work, and time for myself, I have noticed that my time management skills have improved and I am more efficient in taking care of all my responsibilities. However, I do come in on weekends sometimes and even come in during break, because research does not stop when it’s inconvenient for you. Research is a full time commitment but the experiences and skills that I’ve gained while being a part of it has been invaluable to my academics and career.