Alicja Cygan of Belle Mead is one of many Rutgers University Chemistry undergraduate students who are getting hands on experience with research earlier in their academic careers through a pilot program funded by the Aresty Research Center.
A 21-year-old senior from Belle Mead graduating in May, Cygan has been working in a lab that focuses on the Hepatitis C virus thanks in part to the Aresty program.
“I would definitely recommend the opportunity to other students who are looking to get involved in research and would enjoy the opportunity to present their work in a supportive setting,” said Cygan. “The biggest benefit of the program is that a student can choose any lab in the chemistry department to work in rather than choose from specific projects. This allows for great freedom and for the opportunity to work on a project or in a lab that most interests a particular student.”
Cygan plans to continue her research in graduate school, most likely focusing on biological problems and virology. She will be attending Stanford University, where she intends to pursue a doctorate in microbiology and immunology.
“Our goal with the Aresty Chemistry Scholars Program was to get more students involved in research earlier in their academic careers,” said John Brennan, Rutgers Chemistry Professor and Vice Chair of the Undergraduate Program. “For chemistry students, the first couple years is very textbook heavy, but we wanted to get more undergraduates involved in the lab earlier. The Aresty Center has allowed us to do that by providing support for faculty research endeavors.”
Brennan approached the Aresty Center two years ago to support the Rutgers Chemistry & Chemical Biology Department’s research objectives for undergraduates. The Aresty Research Center, funded by a generous endowment from Jerome and Lorraine Aresty, provides a variety of programs that allow undergraduate students to be involved in research throughout their Rutgers careers. Students in the Chemistry program simply need to express an interest with Brennan to get started in a lab.
Richa Rana, a 21-year-old junior from Lodi, first became involved with the Aresty program as a research assistant in the lab of Rutgers Chemistry Professor Kathryn Uhrich, an internationally renowned polymer scientist.
“My two years as a research assistant have allowed me to gain hands-on experience in a laboratory setting that I could not have gained through classroom experience alone,” said Rana, who hopes to attend graduate school and eventually pursue doctoral studies before working in industry. “In the lab, I have been able to readily apply what I have learned in the classroom to my own research. The biggest benefit I have gained from research is the ability to think critically in analyzing how to overcome obstacles and determining why an experiment did not go as expected. I would recommend undergraduate research to all students – some students realize they love research, while others realize it is not for them.”
Aresty Director Brian Ballentine, Ph.D. said the center is exploring similar partnerships with other departments in large part due to the success in Chemistry.
“We know that hands on experience helps students feel more comfortable in their chosen field of study,” said Ballentine. “Our mission is to encourage, facilitate, and support faculty-student relationships that promote undergraduate engagement in research. The mentoring relationships that faculty establish with students are equally important to the research.”
Princeton resident Sarah Goodman, a 21-year-old senior graduating in May, will be continuing her research interests in graduate school either at Berkeley or Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Applying to the Aresty program was really the best decision I made in college,” said Goodman. “Being a part of the Aresty program was especially helpful during my first year of research. My peer instructor taught me how to write an abstract and present a poster. I would definitely recommend Aresty to other students, even if you think research isn’t for you, you never know until you try. When I first came to college, I never thought I would become this dedicated to a research project, let alone speak on the topic at two conferences, or go to grad school.”
All students in the Aresty program have the opportunity to present their research at the Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, which this year is held April 25th at the Livingston Student Center. Students in the Aresty Chemistry Scholars Program also present their research during the poster session of the Jean Wilson Day Memorial Undergraduate Research Symposium, to be held May 2nd in the Life Sciences Atrium on the Busch Campus.
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