Undergraduate Research: A Closer Look


Kayli Walker

Denise Montell’s lab, one of the many research labs at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has done some great studies on apoptosis, or cell death. Students have been studying the way that a cell can escape programmed death, an interesting phenomenon contradicting the idea that a cell is permanently dead after apoptosis.

Research labs, like Montell’s lab, can give students hands-on experience working in the lab and can help them understand topics that are difficult to grasp by allowing them to have a visual of the topic. For example, Montell’s lab focuses on studying cell biology by using molecular and cellular approaches. Due to the complexity and diversity of this topic, it can be difficult to grasp if only learning it from a textbook, so the lab assists in this learning process.

Besides the fact that this research lab studies this very interesting phenomenon, there are a number of benefits that students can gain from working in a research lab like this one. Working in a research lab can help students achieve their future goals by obtaining skills that cannot be taught in a classroom. Rawan Sultan, a third-year biochemistry major, is one of the undergraduate researchers in Montell’s lab.

“We study the way in which a cell is able to escape programmed death, also known as apoptosis,” said Sultan in an interview with The Bottom Line. “I do believe that being a part of this lab helped me with my future. Working as an administrative assistant allowed me to work with everyone and make sure certain needs are met in a time-sensitive matter. Doing research helps with my goals of being a doctor because it allows me to practice making logical decisions and conclusions based on observations, which is how research works.”

Communication skills and the ability to work in a team are crucial to most careers, especially ones in medicine and research. Thus if a student has the opportunity to obtain and refine these skills during their undergraduate career, finding their dream career and achieving entrance into graduate school are one step closer to them and much more attainable. However, these skills generally cannot be obtained in the classroom setting and are a benefit of working in a research lab.

Holding a position in a lab, especially as an administrator, may seem intimidating and before joining a lab, students may wonder if they will enjoy the experience. They may wonder if they will be able to handle the learning curve and the level of difficulty associated with these types of labs.

“I love being a part of this lab, since everyone in it is so dedicated to their work and everyone is hardworking,” said Sultan. “Denise is such an inspirational person and the best mentor anyone could have. She has accomplished so much in her life, but that does not stop her from continuing to learn and discover even more things.”

This does not mean that the tasks are easy by any means, but it is definitely worth the effort that is put in. The lab is its own community of dedicated individuals, and there is a mentor who can help students discover their passions, while learning something extraordinary at the same time. Research labs are a great opportunity for students who are pursuing graduate school, research or just looking to be dedicated to a team that works on the same task.