Sharing My First Research Conference Experience with The Highlanders

UC Riverside and I go way back. Ten years ago, I was an elementary school boy attending a cousin’s PhD graduation commencement at UC Riverside. Now, for the first time in ten years, I come back to UC Riverside to experience in what many researchers do yearly – presenting at a research conference.

SCCUR – Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. It was their Fall Symposium, and I was eager to share the research I have done this summer. As I arrived, I was not anticipating any food to be catered until lunch, yet a simple breakfast was served. This and especially chugging down a cup of OJ were things I needed to kickstart the day.

After checking in, I sat in an auditorium filled with unfamiliar faces. Introducing myself to who I thought were strangers around me slowly became what was like conversations with my lab mates. We conversed about our research, scientific backgrounds, and undergraduate life. The hall gradually declined in volume as a SCCUR Board Member Dr. Jack Eichler welcomed us and officially commenced the conference. Dr. Susan Wessler, the plenary speaker, soon came up and gave a talk about her research on transposable elements. I was intrigued by learning that a big chunk of our genome consists mostly of these transposable elements that have no apparent use, yet research is finding out that they actually do. Her lab tries to decipher the uses of transposable elements, using some similar techniques which I surprisingly know of. That talk had definitely struck an accord with me, © 2016 JUSTIN SU. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.instilling a drive within me to find out more about transposable elements and connect the dots to what I already know.

After listening to presenters give their talks and eating lunch with our two fellow Gorman Scholars, it was showtime. The poster was up; I was hydrated; and people started shuffling into the room. Having a spot near the entrance to the room definitely got many to take interest in my poster. I was enthused to share with everyone interested in my poster, especially those who knew a lot about microtubules. Whenever there was downtime, I would take the opportunity to learn what my neighbors’ projects were and what they researched. Overall, I was mainly busy throughout the entire session – introducing myself, running down key points throughout my project, and even networking with those around me. The environment itself was lively, yet so nostalgic considering this was my first research conference experience.

Reinforcing my point in my first blog post, you do get the recognition, the food, the drinks, and especially the connections. Driving away from UC Riverside was a bittersweet moment, where I felt happy that it happened and sad that it was over. I learned a lot from SCCUR, and I encourage any undergraduate researcher to experience presenting at a research symposium. In addition, this year’s research experience has been extremely educational, and it sure was a summer well spent. I truly thank CSEP for supporting me and my project this year, and I cannot wait to present at the next research conference that will have me.


A Home Away from Home

When a power outage occurs in Isla Vista and the library closes at 2 AM, there is only one option left for me – the lab. That actually happened. I did not sleep there, of course, though I desperately needed power, warmth, and speakers that can blast me awake. Interestingly enough, I was not alone. One of the graduate students working in my lab was also there. It simply felt like home, where that oh dark hundred became one of the most productive I have been in all summer.


This world also contains a direct view to the ocean and the freshman dorms!

Working in Dr. Zach Ma’s lab opened a new world for me, one that I would not have expected to be in a year ago. A world that contains one of the purest, sterile water on campus, countless bags of pipette tips, and some laboratory equipment that cost more than most luxury cars. Though a chemistry major, I have always found the field of biology intriguing, and joining a cell biology lab before even taking general biology is quite a challenge and a reward. Learning biochemical techniques and operating laboratory equipment these past months were all fascinating fun, yet the reiterated realization of the difference between doing and thinking was a defining moment of this summer. Acknowledging the fact of doing from memorizing was extremely difficult until problems began to arise sporadically. Every experiment has their own situations. Doing based on understanding the scientific concepts and their rationales adapts to those situations, and would have optimized the ideal circumstances for each experiment I ran. Boy, would that help me in organic chemistry.


A year ago, I did not know that it was possible for a freshman to get involved in research, especially cutting-edge research. Though in research, one thing to hone in on is resiliency. No matter if your hypothesis was horrendously wrong, you go back to the drawing board and patiently and logically crank it out. As a part of a research group, I have a family that is willing to come to my aid and motivate me. I can even go to other families around campus and find ways to collaborate, whether they be ideas or equipment. Simply put, we are a family, and this is my home, where I will be making life-defining memories (and scientific discoveries, hopefully) for the years to come.


Summer Research Declassified


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Beck Bennett: Gets an adrenaline rush. Parties hard until rush dissipates. Drafts. Publishes. Spams published paper. Gets invitations. Accepts invitations. Presents in conferences. Gets nominated. Wins nomination. Becomes a Nobel laureate. Finally, SLEEP.

*transition swish*

Morgan Freeman: Clinching a Nobel Prize is one of the lengthiest and arduous attempts. This may take many a lifetime, or a cleverly few, coming in clutch, with one expedited shot at the prize. Space, time, and life itself. The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Though the timeline to be the most prestigious in the science realm is enticing, saying “EUREKA!” is by no means easy. It all must start with research, and research requires resiliency, critical thinking, perseverance, concentration, self-motivation, and a great deal of time. That is why summer is the best time to get started, where Justin is on the hunt to declassify summer research in this episode of EUREKA!



Justin: Summer is the opportune time to grow as an undergraduate researcher. Not only does one experience the breadth of undergraduate research that UCSB offers, but one can also take the opportunities to communicate one’s research to the public.

As an EUREKA! scholar, I, Justin Su, have been tasked to declassify summer research here at UC Santa Barbara. Conducting research, though crucial for scientific discoveries, is meaningless when the research itself is neither shared nor critiqued by the scientific community. While I am currently working in a cell biology lab to develop my biochemical techniques, EUREKA! is equipping me with the necessary presentation skills for my future conference talks.

Presenting in front of an audience is of the arts that one must master to become a highly acclaimed scientist. It is undoubtedly frightening, especially when the faces of your audience remain expressionless as you begin. Even if you envision the ideal flow of your presentation, the detrimental “noises” in your presentation environment may majorly allocate the audience’s attention bandwidth. I and many presenters must therefore combat these “noises,” especially the personally induced ones. Continuous practice is a harsh, yet imperative, prerequisite to control these noises. Simplification and visualization of information is also essential in retaining the audience’s attention. Additionally, verbal intonation, vocal stability, and bodily expressions will assist in honing the presentation to its ideal and natural form. In the end, you get the fame, the food, the drinks, and the connections, basically all for brief moments on a stage.

Behind the scenes, conducting a personal research project is of the sciences that surprisingly encompasses the execution of many personal values and virtues. In my case, the field of cell biology is extremely logically structured that requires rigorous critical thinking sessions. The virtues of patience, resilience, and open-mindedness are vital when pondering the rationales behind specific mechanisms and pathways. Experimentally, the amount of attention to detail can make or break your experiments, setting off a good or bad domino effect. Whenever it comes to doing Western Blot, immunofluorescent staining, and even mammalian cell culture, I concentrate on being accurate and precise among all my actions to ensure quality and effective data. Despite the time reserved for the experiments, your mind would be like Einstein’s, and it is so worth it (i.e. learning upper-division biology concepts as a freshman). Gradually, however, one will begin to appreciate the science behind these biochemical techniques and analytical skills. By applying your mind, skills, and values to the cutting edge research done here at UCSB, you will be on your way to saying “EUREKA!” in no time.

With the fusion of art and science behind research, the ample space, time, and life that summer at UCSB provides is the epitome for undergraduate researchers to fulfill their potential in becoming groundbreaking, world-renowned scientists in their fields. With a laid-back, sunny Isla Vista during the summer, I could go on runs, film and edit videos, play beach volleyball, chill with my friends, and not worry about weekly exams. Although I am halfway through my first summer research experience, there is so much that I cannot wait to do in my next three years. Until next time, this is EUREKA!’s Summer Research Declassified.



TL;DR: Be cool like us and do summer research – It’s really lit, fam!