Dolev Bluvstein ’19, Physics

As a scientist, you think your work will be impactful in the larger community, but it’s difficult to judge until you actually hear from others.”

Dolev Bluvstein, just like many other young researchers, has struggled with self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

For the last three years, Dolev has worked in Professor Ania Jayich’s lab—a lab that investigates color centers in diamonds. These color centers are defects that give diamonds unique colors, and researchers can control these defects with quantum mechanics and use them as atomic-sized magnets.

When Dolev first started in the lab as a freshman, he worked with a Postdoc on using these defects as quantum sensors. But at the beginning of his junior year, the Postdoc decided to take a different job. Suddenly, Dolev had to fill his role and lead the project—at a time when they were between major projects and had no clear direction.

“I remember, when that happened, I was sitting on my friend’s roof, drinking a beer, and thinking I was super screwed,” Dolev said. “The stuff the postdoc did was way beyond my capacity, and I thought there was no way I could learn how to do what he did during the school year.”

When Dolev first came to Santa Barbara as a freshman, he joined Jayich’s lab, eager to see what research was all about.

At first, however, Dolev struggled with imposter syndrome when he was working in the lab.

“My first two weeks of summer freshman year, I was building a temperature control device for our experiment, and at first I was testing it on a cardboard box.” Dolev said. “Afterwards, I spent ten hours trying to connect a device to the internet.”

At the time, Dolev couldn’t judge the worth of the projects he was working on, and felt insecure.

“Those were tough moments for me, and I had to keep telling myself ‘I’m not a waste of space, I’m not a waste of space,’” he said.

But Dolev persevered through feelings of self-doubt, and as he knocked out technical project after technical project, Jayich started to trust Dolev, giving him more serious responsibilities. Soon, Dolev started doing simulations and building items for the main setup.

“Once I got my foot in the door, people started to take me more seriously,” Dolev said. “The biggest milestone for me was during summer my freshman year, when I presented some of my ideas at a symposium at UCSB.”

Sophomore year, Dolev built up his responsibilities even more; by the end of the year, Dolev was leading a small project on the main experiment. Dolev implemented a new measurement technique using different charge states of these diamond color centers, which greatly enhanced their sensing abilities.

“When I built the new measurement technique, I felt like I finally got my fingers in and became a scientist,” Dolev said.

Time and time again, Dolev proved he could hold his own in the experiment—overcoming bouts of self-doubt along the way.

But on that fateful night on his friend’s roof, when the Postdoc left, Dolev couldn’t see a clear path forward.

“I didn’t have the self-confidence at the time to lead the project by myself,” Dolev said. “The first week after the Postdoc left, the hard drive crashed on the computer, which was kind of symbolic that the ship was sinking.”

Dolev sent many late-night emails and worked with Jayich to come up with new directions to study. Of particular interest were strange behaviors they observed when they were using the different charge states for sensing. Dolev then spent one year investigating how the two different charge states in these defects behaved differently when the defect was near the surface—a complicated problem that people have never understood very well. Recently, Dolev’s work was published in Physical Review Letters.

“It was definitely a cool moment to see it published in the journal, but the even cooler part was talking to scientists at conferences who told me that my research would impact their work,” Dolev said. “As a scientist, you think your work will be impactful in the larger community, but it’s difficult to judge until you actually hear from others.”

Recently, Dolev received the Hertz Fellowship—a prestigious fellowship given to the nation’s most promising scientists. Dolev credits Jayich for a majority of his successes.

“Ania always had me face challenges that were just beyond what I thought I could accomplish, and gave me the resources to do so,” Dolev said. “Even when I couldn’t see a path forward and felt alone, Ania was in the background, guiding me in the right direction and engineering opportunities for me to grow.”

In the fall, Dolev will start his PhD at Harvard, where he plans to be for the next five or six years. After struggling with imposter syndrome his freshman year, Dolev has decided he wants to do research for the rest of his life.

“My advice to undergrads in research is to take every task that is given to you seriously–no matter how trivial it seems.” Dolev said. “Nobody will give you important tasks if you don’t show your worth on smaller tasks. The most important attributes in research are reliability, the ability to manage projects, and the ability to persevere through failure.”

balancing act

Research as an Undergrad: A Balancing Act

It seems like every professor, tutor, and upperclassman tells us undergraduates that the key to success in college is time management. And we undergrads try our best, but between managing research, multiple classes, a social life, and a healthy lifestyle, it gets difficult. This is especially relevant for new students: adjusting to a demanding university lifestyle. One trap that we often fall into is studying last minute and panicking over how to succeed in an exam. Often times, we let our own stress consume us and end up doing worse on the exam than we could have done. Below, I have included some tips of how to prepare for exams amidst a demanding schedule.

Before the Exam

  1. Review from class slides, paying attention to areas that were emphasized in lecture
  2. Be able to identify the objectives that you are supposed to learn from each lecture
  3. Create study groups early on, as these friends can help you throughout the quarter and right before exams

In Preparation For/During the Exam

  1. Throughout your studying, create 1 sheet of paper with hard concepts/review questions that you would like to review right before the exam to refresh your memory. Browse this sheet about an hour before your exam
  2. Set a specific time to stop studying before the exam, and make sure you reach the exam location with at least 5 minutes to spare
  3. Before going into the exam, take a deep a breath and realize that you have done everything you could to study, your exam is simply an opportunity to demonstrate your work in the course
  4. At the beginning of the exam, write down some quick notes of concepts/formulas that you might forget throughout the exam
  5. Preview the test, and see how you can allocate your time, attempting the easiest questions first
  6. Mark questions you are unsure about, and save time at the end of the exam to do a second pass of these questions

After the Exam

  1. Realize you’ve put your best foot forward, and there is no need to keep worrying over the results
  2. Celebrate in some way! Whether it be treating yourself to dessert or getting a massage at CAPS, you deserve it!

Claudia Allegre ’19 Political Science

“It’s little things [in Political Science] that I want to change, and as more people of color come into academia we can change that”

Claudia Allegre

Claudia Allegre refuses to get pushed to the side.

She knows the statistics, knows that only .3 percent of all political scientists are latinas. She knows her progressive voice can often be in stark contrast to a regimented, old-fashioned field.

Her friends often ask her why she doesn’t go into sociology–a field with much greater latinx representation. But Claudia refuses to be confined to that, to get pushed to other fields.

“There needs to be more women of color in political science,” Claudia said.” “When Political Scientists talk about latinx issues, they usually do so from an outsider’s perspective. We need to be able to use our own perspectives.”

In her life, Claudia has seen first-hand the importance of diversifying academia. When she came into college, Claudia didn’t have any idea what she wanted to do in the future. She knew she liked politics, but wasn’t quite sure what that would lend itself to. Then, in her first year, Claudia met Narayani Lasala-Blanco, her academic mentor.

“She was the first person of color I saw teaching here, and being able to relate to her on that level was what got me into research,” Claudia said. “When you’re a first generation college student and a person of color you never feel like you’re good enough or that you’re going to make it. She was the one who proved to me that I could do research.”

Since then, Claudia’s research has focused on the latinx community–topics that are important to her. Growing up in San Ysidro, a border town in south San Diego, Claudia was always fascinated by her family’s political participation; while her parents and grandparents were informed, her dad was the only one who actually voted.

“I never really understood why my mom didn’t vote, and I came into college knowing I wanted to research voter turnout,” Claudia said. “Latinx voter turnout has always been very low, and I wanted to look into the causes for this.”

Over the summer, Claudia’s research focused on second generation latinx Americans, and how having undocumented parents affected their voter turnout. While she only conducted preliminary tests, her research showed that having undocumented parents led to a significant decrease in voter participation for their children.

“That was my favorite project so far, because I had control over everything,” she said. “I was able to come up with the hypothesis, find the data, and create the experimental design.”

Claudia has discovered her passion for research–a passion that has convinced her to go into academia in the future. Rather than just talk about the need to diversify academia, she wishes to be the change she hopes to see.

Change, of course, is often a long, tedious process. When Claudia tried to use the term “latinx” in her research–a more inclusive way to refer to latinos/latinas–she was told that that term “isn’t used” in political science.

“It’s little things like that that I want to change, and as more people of color come into academia we can change that,” she said.

Despite her setbacks, Claudia remains determined to become a political scientist, to bring diversity to a field that sorely lacks latinx representation. When she does, she hopes to prove to her students that they too can break the mold and become political scientists.

“I know that if I weren’t for my mentors then I wouldn’t be here,”Claudia said. “I want to show other students of color that they can make it, that they can get involved.”

Change doesn’t happen overnight. But with Claudia at the helm, change is coming.

My Thoughts on Applying to Graduate School

Applying to graduate school can be quite a stressful time—you’re in the middle of some of your toughest major courses, you’re worried about which schools you will get in to, and you’re probably trying to get a lot of research done all at the same time. Don’t worry, all of us who went through the graduate school application process survived, and you will too. However, I felt that it would be great to share some advice based on my experiences in the process to help alleviate some of the stress you might be having. Disclaimer: all advice I give is based off my experiences applying to PhD programs in chemical engineering, and the expectations of graduate school committees vary from field to field, so take some of what I say with a grain of salt.

 

  1. Writing the graduate school personal statement

 

In all honesty, the graduate school essay is not the most critical factor in your application compared to your GPA and letters of recommendation. However, graduate school committees use it as a means to gauge your writing abilities and how well you can communicate ideas, so it is still decently important. When writing the personal statement, you should keep some important points in mind. First of all, everything you write should be clear and concise—put your main objectives up front and tell the committee exactly why you want to pursue a PhD. Do not obscure your thoughts behind fluffy syntax and fancy words (this is not an undergraduate personal statement). You can be very explicit and say something like “I plan to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering because…”  Additionally, your writing should be problem focused. Instead of saying “I did research in so and so’s lab,” you should say “One of the major problems in field X is Y. My research in so and so’s lab adapts a method that combines C and D and provides a unique approach to solving Y.” Problem focused writing flows much nicer and it will readily convey the rigor and impressiveness of your work to the committee. Lastly, once your essay is written, it is vital that you get it proofread by at least two professors. Professors will be able to catch any potential red flags in your writing as well as provide you with useful suggestions.

 

  1. Preparing for/taking the GRE

 

At least for chemical engineering and probably a lot of STEM fields, the GRE will have little to no bearing on your application unless you do extremely poorly. For example, some schools have already begun to phase out GRE requirements. Additionally, there are some schools that still require it but then the individual departments do not even look at the scores. Nonetheless, most schools still require the GRE as of right now, so you will still have to take it. First, I suggest you take the time to look at typical GRE scores of the applicants admitted to the schools you wish to apply. This should serve as a range for the scores you should aim to get. Next, you should invest in an official GRE prep book. This will allow you get an idea for the types of questions you will expect to see on the exam as well as the exam format. If you are absolutely unable to buy a book, there are plenty of online resources you could look at. Additionally, some programs at UCSB offer GRE prep scholarships, such as the Edison-McNair GRE Scholarship. Lastly, after you study up for the exam, make sure you get plenty of rest beforehand, for your intuition will your best friend in doing well. Afterward, if you feel you didn’t do that well, you can definitely retake it, although I do not suggest retaking the exam more than 2 times as it is very expensive. For STEM majors, you should aim to get above 85thpercentile on math, a 4 or higher on writing, and your verbal score really doesn’t matter at all.

 

  1. Relax and start early

 

Preparing graduate school applications will take a lot more time than you think. I highly recommend you write some sort of draft for your personal statement around a month in advance. Trust me, it will save you a lot of stress later on, and it will also give you plenty of time to get it reviewed by professors. Lastly, you should take a step back and relax a bit. Think about it—you’ve come this far, and you should be excited that you are preparing for the next big steps in your career. Everything will work out the way it should, and I guarantee you will be happy wherever you go.

 

 

Dorian Bruch is a fourth-year chemical engineering major. He likes to rock climb, play games, and go try new food with friends. He works in the lab of Dr. Glenn Fredrickson on studying the nucleation of block copolymers using computational methods. He really enjoys math, theory, and learning about statistical mechanics and applying it to polymer systems.

A Tale of Three Labs

From cracking the genetic code of brewers yeast, to preparing micro-animals for space travel and now unraveling the mystery of why underwater organisms glow in the dark, I have had quite the journey in lab research during my time at UCSB. As a CCS Biology Major, my path in college has definitely not been traditional. I actually came in as a physics major, because I liked the way physics trained my brain to think. While I had a knack for numbers and logic, my fascination has always been with biology. However, coming out of high school I thought that medical school was the only path for a degree in biology which was something I knew I wasn’t too keen on. The summer before college changed my life- I had an internship with Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology startup in Boston, coined “The Organism Company”. At Ginkgo I was able to literally hack the biosynthetic pathways of yeast to make them smell like grapes and produce other compounds found normally in plants. I was able to apply my knack for numbers and engineering while working with life.

Though I was coming in as a physics major, I knew I wanted to get right into research. I wanted to know more about why yeast are used in synthetic biology and what makes them tick. I was immediately welcomed by the Proulx Lab. During my time in the Proulx lab, I learned a textbook’s worth of information of yeast biology and evolution, while getting hands on experience in bioinformatics. This is where I learned that regardless of what Biology lab I joined, I could take an interdisciplinary approach within the lab to complete a project, while acquiring the skills I would need to do science in my future career.

After completing an URCA project and attending an incredible conference in Austin, Texas, I parted ways with the lab as both the lab’s and my interests were shifting. During this period, I finally decided to apply to the College of Creative Studies, a college within a college where structured, motivated students rely not only on coursework, but lab experience as a part of their core curriculum. As soon as I was accepted, I dove into trying to find another lab. Almost immediately I joined the Rothman lab. The Rothman lab is working on a fantastic project in collaboration with Dr. Phil Lubin’s lab; they are preparing tardigrades and nematodes to get ready for long term space travel. This work aligned with my interests at the time in genetics and astrobiology. I spent a fabulous six months there, learning at an exponential rate. However for personal reasons I felt I hadn’t quite found my niche yet. I was grateful for all of my experience, but I started to become stressed. I found myself asking the questions, “Shouldn’t I have found my place by now?” “What will my future employers think of me when they see I jumped around to multiple different labs in four years?” As I soon learned, this yearning to find my place was not a reflection of me being flaky or irresponsible. It was just a matter of finding the magical place where I felt my presence was needed to conduct scientific research.

It took me a while to come to terms with feeling like I had done something wrong by not sticking with one lab in my time at UCSB. It wasn’t until I joined the Oakley lab this past summer, studying the evolution of bioluminescence in marine ostracods, that I felt like I was finding my place and my confidence as a scientist. I joined and got to know the lab, and almost immediately dove into my own project, assisting my postdoc and PI in their larger research question. The trust and respect they placed in me fueled my fire, and has resulted in my best work yet as a scientist, with another conference attended under my belt, future ones to come as well as a potential publication! Not to mention finding the answers to their larger research questions at hand. I learned that “failure” is actually progress, as every second, and I mean every SECOND in the lab is critical to your growth as a scientist. Messing up or getting funky results the first or second or third time on a new protocol, is just another fun puzzle to solve as to why those funky results happened in the first place. I learned that no matter what research question the lab you join is addressing, you and your interests will have a place in the lab, as Biology is becoming more and more interdisciplinary every day. What truly matters is your comfort, your lab mates and eventual friends, and your drive. With those things under your belt, there limit is truly the sky, the sea or the galaxy.