Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP)

Apprentices Discuss their Experiences

Apprentice with the Emma Goldman Papers

What motivated you to apply to URAP?

In my freshman year, I started to look for opportunities to get some research experience. While reading the URAP project descriptions I came across the Emma Goldman Papers, and it attracted me because I am interested in the time period around World War I. I applied at the beginning of my sophomore year and was accepted, and it’s been a lot of fun.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I am sifting through WWI era newspapers trying to find traces of pacifists and conscientious objectors. President Wilson at the onset of the war said it was fine to be an objector and a pacifist, but toward the end of the war those objectors were jailed and the pacifist organizations were shut down.

What format do those papers come in? Are you looking at online archives or microfiche records?

Usually it is a combination of online archive and microfiche. Whenever I can, I use the online archive because working with the microfiche records makes me dizzy after a while. But whenever there is not much there other than information about the big figures, I go to the microfilm room and try to flush out more detailed information about lesser known figures.

What does a search look like, practically speaking?

Usually, Barry [Pateman, the associate editor of the Emma Goldman Papers and primary mentor for this project] gives me the name of an organization, and I will search for anything about that organization. I tend to find the names of the leaders, and I focus on those names that come up frequently. Often, it turns out that the same people who ran one organization also are part of several other pacifist organizations with different names in order to elude government interference. Once you pick up on the trail of someone you haven’t necessarily heard of before but who seems to have been involved a lot, you go back and look more in depth for that person and see what comes up. If there is not a lot to be found online, I continue in the microfilm room.

Does any of this ever get a little repetitive?

At times, and especially when I am just starting out looking for names, it can get a little tedious. But it really helps if you can break it up a little. I usually work about twelve hours a week, but my schedule is very flexible. I don’t need to do everything in two big sittings; I can go in between classes and work for two hours or so.

Where do you do the work?

I do some of the online work from home and also a lot at the library, because it helps me to keep focused – too many distractions at home! I don’t usually do a lot of work directly at the Emma Goldman Papers Center, but I check in with Barry once or twice a week at our regular meetings to let him know where I am, and to discuss new ideas. I can also email or call him anytime if I run into any issues. It has happened that I tried to track down a discrepancy and it turned out there simply wasn’t a way to reconcile the issue. I call Barry when I feel that I have hit a wall, and he is definitely very accessible and supportive, which is very helpful.

Is there anything about research that surprised you when you started about two semesters ago?

I went in thinking that it would be immediately exciting and engaging, but I realized that it is one of those things, like so many things, where you have to build yourself up to become invested in the material before you get all excited about it. I started out tracking arrests during WWI, and at first I would sit there for six hours or so – I didn’t really think about breaking up my time or anything – and I would sit there thinking “I am so hungry!” After about month I figured out my level of concentration and time frames that work for me.

What do you appreciate the most about this experience?

First of all, it has really opened my eyes to the history of this time period. The Emma Goldman people are a network of people who are really invested in this topic, and it is inspiring to be with a group of such dedicated people – it makes me feel like I am part of something exciting and bigger. Every day when I look at some material I think about how it is likely that no one has looked at this since it was written – it feels like I am uncovering new things, that I am contributing.

Any more advice for potential applicants?

Many times, especially in the beginning, the material can be very minute and abstract, compared to looking at a textbook for example – you are looking at material that will inform a textbook. You have to find what really clicks with you. Whether it is the idea of doing research itself and contributing to something bigger, or some information in the material that you find. Sometimes, when things get a bit tedious while looking at the newspapers, I start to look at what else is there. Outside of what I am looking for there is a bigger narrative about social issues that were going on at the time, and that is just as exciting.

Have you been able to apply your newly developed research skills in other contexts?

This semester I am working on a research paper for one of my classes for which I am looking at colonial newspapers, and I realize how helpful it has been to be able to know how to navigate the different websites, which can be very obtuse, and to pick through these newspapers to find what is relevant without getting lost. I realized that if I had gone into this without having worked with the Goldman Papers, I would have been swimming in a sea of irrelevant information. I also learned how to take very efficient notes – this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but writing a lengthy historical paper having efficient notes can be such a time saver.

I should also ask, what is the least favorite aspect of it all?

When I started, Barry had me go into the microfiche room and he knew that this was going to get me nauseous. He calls it the dungeon. So I guess working with the microfiche is my least favorite, but at the same time I like the information I can find by looking at these archives.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Well, I think it is important to have a realistic idea about what might be happening. It is not that you’ll be making pioneering discoveries every day, but on a smaller scale, there are some discoveries to be made for sure. I strongly recommend the experience to everyone. It has really enriched my experience here because it is something outside of the classroom where you can see what is happening in a historical context.

Thank you very much!

Apprentice with Professor Sarah Hake (Plant and Microbial Biology)

Tell us what you are currently working on.

The official description is mapping mutations to chromosomes. There is a certain phenotype in maize called ‘fascicled’: instead of developing one regular corn ear, the plant develops a branching sort of ear. You can imagine it as five pieces of corn fitted into one ear. This is a dominant phenotype, which makes it actually harder to track. If you have one dominant and one recessive genotype, the dominant phenotype still shows. Right now, we are isolating purely dominant genotypes so we can find where in the corn genome this mutation is.

What kind of techniques are involved?

If you go to the very beginning of the research process, you would start with planting the corn. Even though corn is a fast- growing organism, it is still not as fast as bacteria, and you have to plan your experiments around the growing cycle. First, you extract the DNA from the leaves. You use this to make sure you have a homozygous organism, and then you let it grow ears. After that, you do PCR – that involves pipetting, electrophoresis, and visualizing that under the UV light. There is a phenomenon called drooping leaf that is present in rice, and we thought for a while that it might be the drooping leaf gene that might be causing the mutation in the corn, but it turned out to not be a match. That is a lot of what science is – make a hypothesis, find out that it is wrong, and then formulate another hypothesis. A lot of research is trial-and-error.

You have been doing this for the second semester now. When you think back, do you recall what interested you about the program, what motivated you to apply?

In high school, I participated in the Young Scholars Program, which is a six-week research program in the summer at UC Davis that allows you to dig your toes into research. So when I came here, I wanted to do something like it. People actually tell you not to apply in your first year, but I did anyway. I had heard about URAP at Welcome Week, and had planned to wait until my sophomore year, but then I decided to go for it, expecting to get rejected, but at least I’d learn about the application process. (But it turned out I didn’t get rejected!). I applied to the Hake Lab because I had previously learned about a corn precursor, teosinte, and its evolution into modern maize. This is what started my interest in the world of genetics, and the Hake Lab seemed like the place to be!

Tell us about life in the lab.

There are regular lab meetings every Tuesday morning, and sometimes we have journal club meetings. And the PGEC (Plant Gene Expression Center) Building has a noon seminar on Fridays, where one of the researchers gives a small presentation about what they are doing. I don’t see Professor Hake all that much, but I have constant one-on-one with my direct supervisor, China Lunde.

But if you wanted to establish more contact with Professor Hake, would that be possible?

Yes, absolutely. I think I will ask her if I could spend more time with her.

When you think about your research experience thus far, what do you appreciate the most?

It is real. It is different than just reading the lab manual, which tells you exactly what to do, and just following the procedure. You are still following procedure, but every time you do it you are modifying it, and you don’t already know what the results will be. And from there you decide the next step. There is a real discovery going on here.

Is there anything about doing research that surprised you?

Maybe that science (in my lab at least) is dirtier than you might think it is. I mean literal dirt. Even though you are wearing gloves, the lab that you use looks just like the lab you use in class, there are no white lab coats, huge face masks.

Is there anything you would want prospective apprentices to know about?

Make sure you are really interested in what you are applying for, not just because you think it will look good. You will actually be doing this for a significant amount of time, and you are going to go deep into this field, and you need to make sure that you like what you are doing and that you are interested in it. And if you are, that is what is going to show in the interview; it is what is going to get you placed.

Thank you for doing this interview.

Apprentice with Professor Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby (Art History)

Representation of Scale: What is it like to work closely with a faculty mentor on a book-in-progress project?

Let’s talk about the project you are currently working on.

Professor Grigsby is working on a book on representations of scale of four 19th century French structures: the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty. These colossal structures – the Eiffel Tower was the tallest tower, the Panama Canal was the deepest trench- symbolized Western feats of technological prowess. But immediately, and in the case of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty before the structures were finished, they were miniaturized in souvenirs. Many people know them through these souvenirs as opposed to the full-scale structures. During the construction of the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, the images of the work that circulated were not so much in hand-held miniatures or models, but in coins and stereoviews. Stereoviews are now obscure tools, but in the 19th century, they were an extremely popular form of entertainment; everyone had hand-held stereoviewers in their living rooms that would turn doubled photographic images (stereoviews) into three-dimensional projections. Some think of them as precursors to cinema. My research doesn’t necessarily go into all of that; I have been concentrating on theories of scale, and theories of model making. I previously studied architecture, so I have some background, a non-academic knowledge of these subjects.

So this perhaps helps you to narrow down where Professor Grigsby wants you to start your search?

Yes, I think it allowed me to structure my research on two very vast topics. Professor Grigsby is also analyzing structural drawings, architecturally technical drawings, and since I used to construct such drawings, I can read her analysis against my readings of the drawings.

What a great match!

Yes, it was. When we were speaking to the students at the CalSO tabling [Erica participated in an information tabling event for CalSO students], a lot of them asked me “How did you find a good project?” I told them that when I was looking at the list of projects, I didn’t look at my department first, I was just looking into the humanities and something that I would really want to work on. That is definitely one piece of advice that I would give to other students – you have to have a strong interest. I do think that this particular project would work poorly for someone who is not really interested in the topic. It is self-structured, and it requires you to have both an interest and a disciplined way of working. And if you do it right, it is so rewarding- if you find the right project, it doesn’t feel like work. I hope that Professor Grigsby was and is able to access some of my background knowledge, and at the same time, she has helped to bridge my previous professional architectural education with a more academic one. This project has offered an incredible education in research methods and the process of producing an idea, an argument, and ultimately a book.

I want us to talk a little bit about a typical day – what does your schedule look like?

At our first meeting Professor Grigsby outlined her materials, her arguments, and what she specifically wanted me to do. Now, at the end of each meeting, Professor Grigsby discusses what I am supposed to continue looking at. For instance, in our last meeting, it was images vs. models. She wanted to know how architects or engineers discuss the image of their work vs. the model of it. So that becomes my primary research trajectory for me. From that point, I go back to the big, big library, and I spend maybe half a day or so just looking for initial sources.

So you basically have the key terms, and you go to the library – it is that open.

Yes, and it’s been amazing, because I didn’t expect that. I have to say that looking back at my initial notes, I can see that I was much more conservative in the beginning in how I was reporting things to Professor Grigsby. I would quote directly more than anything, and try to screen my own ideas as to why it would be pertinent. I was really just trying to be a funnel from the library to her. And now I think she wants me to distill as much as possible, because it saves time for her, but also because I think she trusts that I have some understanding of what it is she is looking for or what is relevant. I didn’t expect to be able to contribute in that kind of way, so it’s been a real reward. After collecting and distilling the most pertinent articles, I usually send an email to Professor Grigsby with an annotated bibliography and some notes as to why think the sources might be interesting. At the next meeting, we usually go over the work that I did, and she decides the next route to take. Professor Grigsby is an incredible professor. She has made this project so accessible to me and, as much as she possibly can, collaborative, and it is really amazing. She has taught me so much about how to rigorously carry out this kind of research.

Is there anything else you would want students to know before they apply?

One thing that I find important is that students should be aware that they won’t communicate with the professor the same way they do in the classroom. You are no longer completing straightforward assignments for them. You have to learn to work without the immediate affirmation and out of your own motivation. And – this is not a task to do if you are already overextended.

Apprentice with Professor Baquedano-Lopez (Education)

Comparing science education in religious vs. public school education

Please tell us about the project you are currently working on.

I should give you some background. When I first started here (in fall 2005), Professor Baquedano-Lopez had me look at tapes of projects that involved religious schools, Sunday Schools in particular. After that I analyzed data from another project, which was about how to make science more “user-friendly” for elementary school kids by providing teachers with more materials and guidance about curriculum planning. It was a pilot program that was trying to make science easier for the students to grasp, more accessible, especially for kids from poorer schools where the science curriculum might be not very strong.

At the moment, I am looking at the connection between these two projects: I am looking at the differences and similarities between the public school education and the religious school education in regards to science. Professor Baquedano-Lopez is also having me look at how the concept of time is socialized within the two settings.

In addition to the Sunday School education, there is also some data on year-round schools, and I am comparing what those two projects address as far as time and knowledge are concerned: where within each setting does knowledge reside? For example, in the religious education it would be the bible.

How was the data collected?

For one, there are the actual tapes from recording the classes in both projects, and I watch the tapes. Then there are tape logs from other researchers who watched the tapes and took notes on specific aspects they were supposed to look for. For example, in the Religion project there are tape logs that only look at prayer, or tape logs that only look at songs.

There are the tape logs, but there are also notes on specific pieces of narratives, and there are field notes – there is a lot of different data – too much data (laughs). When you finally remember a connection, you have to fish through it all again to find the 5-minute segment you vaguely remember seeing. But in any case, that is what I am doing, describing connections. Patricia (Baquedano-Lopez) and her graduate students are working on a theory right now, which is part of a book that will be written later down the road.

What does a typical day in your apprenticeship look like; what do you do?

Usually, I am here Fridays from 9 to noon. When I come in, sometimes grad students will be here doing their own work, sometimes Patricia will be here, sometimes other URAP students. We all float in and out. I usually just head over here to the computer. I already finished looking at the tapes from the public elementary schools, so now I am going through my notes on the tapes that relate to science and knowledge. Right now, I am also looking through the field notes and other materials for the religious schools, trying to find corresponding material. I collect everything in a word document, and then I write my interpretation of how it relates to what Professor Baquedano Lopez is looking for.

How often do you have meetings?

Usually, at the beginning of the semester when we schedule our hours, Professor Baquedano-Lopez picks the days when she is here. She is usually here Fridays, but she is now also working at the Latino Policy Research Center, so she is not here as often. But I see her at least every other week, not necessarily to meet about something specific, but if I have issues, and if something comes up I just tell her and we meet. Otherwise, I’ll just email her, and if it is something we really need to discuss, we’ll make time.

What do you appreciate the most about this research experience?

I appreciate the most Patricia. I have maybe one other professor I feel comfortable bothering during office hours, and I feel very comfortable around her. And I like that the most.

So it is the connection that you have been able to establish with a faculty member.

Yes, and when she runs into me or the other URAP students, she says things like “Hey, I got some other students who are applying to grad school, do you need a letter of recommendation?” She goes out of her way for us, and I like that; it makes me feel comfortable.

You have been doing this for quite some time – this is your fourth semester. I hope this means that you are having a good experience! Is there anything that surprised you about doing research? Is there anything that was different from what you had expected?

I liked it, and that was surprising. My previous research experience was working in a lab, in Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, and I just processed mouse colons and put them on slides and looked at them. It was interesting at first, but after a while it got boring. I felt that I was dealing with too much mouse colon for one lifetime…(laughs).

How did you find that research position?

That was before I transferred – it was through the Biology Scholars Program, which works with Transfer Students to get them internship positions for the summer on campus. It was interesting, and I was learning something very valuable, which is that I don’t want to go into that kind of research; I don’t want to work in a bio lab, period.

That is a valuable thing to discover!

And I feel like research in the field of education seems more applicable to real life than in the sciences, because if we’ve discovered something now then maybe we can apply what relates to mice to humans in ten years from now. And I feel that research in the social sciences is more directly about and based on people, so it is more directly applicable to them.

What kind of advice would you like to give to prospective apprentices?

Find a subject that you are interested in as opposed to “I want to be in Medical School, so I need to be in a science lab”. I know that a part of me really wanted to do that even though I don’t really like working with microscopes and mice and tissue samples, because I want to go to Med School, but I was thinking that in the long run it will be more beneficial for me if I do research that I actually enjoy so that when they ask me why I did this for four semesters, I can give a good reason, as opposed to “Well, I didn’t really like it, but I want to go to Med School, so that is the only thing to do”.

And if you realize after a semester or more that it is really not your passion, find something else, keep searching. Is there anything else you would like to comment on?

That some professors are nicer than others. I have a friend who applied to URAP and he said that during the interview it was really scary when he went to meet with the professor he applied to, and he ended up not getting any of the apprenticeships. For me is was different. Professor Baquedano-Lopez was the only one who responded, and she was very friendly during the interview. This was my first semester here, and I felt reassured. I know my friend was a little traumatized and said “No, I don’t want to apply again because I’m not going to get the position anyway”. But I think a part of it is that sometimes people don’t read the description that well and they think “I’m a psychology major, I just apply for the psychology projects”. When you read the description carefully you realize “Hmm, I don’t think this will actually be a good fit for me because of what they are asking for and what they will have me do”. That might have been part of it.

I do think that faculty pick that up in the initial conversation. They probably realize how closely a student has read the description, and if they have gone beyond what is in the description, maybe to the faculty mentor’s homepage or lab page to gather as much information as possible, so there are different elements that come together.

Thank you for doing this interview!

Apprentice in the Harland Lab (Molecular & Cell Biology)

When I was in high school, I had no idea of what research actually meant beyond lab coats and safety goggles; I didn’t know what pipetting or other lab techniques were. After my first semester here I decided to try URAP and was invited for the initial interview with Professor Harland, along with one other student. Doctor Harland asked us about our previous experience, and the student next to me started to talk about all his research experience. He had done some research including stints at UCSF and Stanford. I remember thinking “Darn, I don’t even know what pipetting is”. I told Dr. Harland that I had never done research, and didn’t know if I wanted to go to grad school or med school. I was applying to find out. It turned out that I got the position. That was great. That is the advice I would like to give to anyone who reads this: If you wonder “Should I say this or that about myself” I would say just be honest, and try to show them who you are more than what you have accomplished by making a long list. Be honest, and it will work out better for you.

That is very good advice. Let’s talk a little bit about what is it that you are currently working on.

We were assigned individual projects from the very beginning. There are ten chromosomes in the frog Xenopus tropicalis and each of us was assigned one to two chromosomes. We needed to find the centromere, which is the point where the sister chromatids attach in meiosis. This got us used to PCR (polymerase chain reaction), gel running, and all the other lab procedures. Once we did that, each of us chose one mutation for mapping, and I chose ‘Grinch’. This is an early developmental defect which results in a huge bulge in the chest. From the work of a past undergraduate we suspect it is a defect in the circulatory system or the lymphatic system. The object is to find where this mutation occurs in the genome – to map it. It could be anywhere on anyone of the ten chromosomes.

The first step involves me doing what other postdocs do, which is gynogenesis (Harland Xenopus tropicalis Site). Then I screen the tadpoles for the mutation and extract their DNA. I use these DNA to find where the mutation occurs by doing PCRs and analyzing them through gel electrophoresis. We are zoning in on the actual location of the mutation.

Can you describe a typical day in the lab?

I have collected about 200 embryos that need to be tested. To do all of them at once is a little hard, so I choose anywhere from 15 – 100 and do PCRs- we amplify the DNA. Then I take the amplified DNA and run gels to get the results. Once you know what the results are, you decide what to do next. It is an entirely different story for the rare days when I need more embryos. Then, I first need to figure out which two frogs I need to mate to get mutant embryos

So you are starting at the very beginning.

Yes, at that stage, I have to plan a week ahead, because it takes a while for the eggs to grow.

How often do you meet with your faculty mentor, Professor Harland?

Wednesday mornings is the general lab meeting, where usually two of the lab members present their research. The undergraduates usually don’t present at that meeting (although we are encouraged to), but we usually attend. In fact later in July, another undergraduate and myself will present at this meeting. This will be my first time presenting my project to the entire lab.

After having witnessed a lot of presentations before by the other lab members, do you feel confident about this?

Yes, I’ll be ok. It will be very good practice, and the questions that they’ll ask will make me think more deeply about the project. In addition to the Wednesday meetings, every Friday the undergrads (the trop team) also meet with Dr. Harland and Mustafa Khokha (who started the tropicalis team and is now at Yale University). Mustafa attends the meetings via video chat

Was there anything that surprised you about doing research when you started?

What surprised me the most is how often Dr. Harland is actually there – he is almost always in the lab. In fact it is very rare that he is not. I can talk to him anytime I get results and I talk to him almost everyday. That really surprised me – how accessible and nice he was. It also surprised me how Mustafa is still very involved and I can always ask him for help. Also, the next International Xenopus Conference will be held in Germany this September and Mustafa and Dr. Harland are both going to attend. Mustafa asked me to write an abstract for our project and so I sent it to him and he submitted it. What surprised me the most was that he put me as the first author on it. Mustafa will be presenting for us and I am very excited.

We talked about some advice you would give to prospective applicants a little earlier – is there anything else you would like to share based on your experience?

Don’t choose a project or apply to a lab because you think it is something that will look good on a resume. You are not going to like it as much. Choose something that really interests you and can keep you engaged. Choose something you can enjoy even if it is not related to your major. If URAP doesn’t work, go and talk to the professors on your own; take that initiative. URAP can be pretty competitive. You get your three choices, but if that doesn’t work out, don’t give up.

Thank you very much!