A Sense of Fresh Air

The stress of school is a heavy, dense sort of fog that follows me and several of my UCSB peers from one point of campus to another with each progression of any given quarter. Ultimately, this creates an atmosphere that is easy to suffocate in. Just recently, a mass email was sent to every undergraduate Chemistry/Biochemisty major and minor that attend UCSB, and likely several faculty members. The purpose of this email was a Major Progress Check to an individual in the department who had earned a GPA under 2.0 for the year. The email “highlighted the benefits of maintaining a 2.0 GPA”, basically a reminder of being dismissed from the major if the GPA is not brought up, the email told an entire community about our fellow Chemistry Major’s struggles. For me, this situation filled my lungs with that dense fog and I felt embarrassed, upset, in utter amazement of such carelessness. I also felt a significant sense of hope for my peer, still believing in this stranger’s academic career. Following this email there was another, apologizing and asking the hundreds of people to please delete an inappropriate mistake made by one academic advisor. This mistake reminded me of the skill and fuel of opportunity and how in academia, the ranks are clear and opportunity must be gathered the same way one might gather pieces of a puzzle, with patience and intent. It took me a while to understand that your opportunities do not have to derive from your GPA, but can be from any place of passion, background, and individuality. There was a time here at UCSB where I received this same email and following this grief, I raised my GPA, and told myself that I would never let a number keep me from the experiencing of technique and the artform of working in a lab.

Applying for a program was my way of putting puzzle pieces together towards an opportunity like the Gorman Scholars program. A program that allows me to explore my own research project and to completely immerse myself in a research setting specifically in a Polymer Chemistry lab. Going into this, I was prepared to be surrounded in that dense fog but surprisingly I feel a sense of fresh air. The experiments, notes, papers, presentation, these factors that come together to ultimately provide me tools towards becoming skillful and creative, all without worrying about grades or GPA’s. The purpose of my work has many delightful intricacies and I can diverge down the various rabbit holes in which my project leads me into, all without having to center around dull topics that a class setting provides from day 1 in the syllabus to day 45 during that impossible final. Research is not a class. Presentations are not exams. Lab work is not school work. I think it is important for all students to remind themselves that the opportunity is there for you to grab. Even if you are barely scraping by for whatever reason, an opportunity will be open for you to gather the tools you DO have to go get that opportunity. So far, I have had a very positive research experience, with a great mentor and steady pace in the lab. Although I do not care to work in academia, I do want a career where I can have a creative voice in my research and continue to collect skills in which I can help optimize the world around me as a Chemist.

erfan

Is social media hurting your research performance?

In today’s society, the majority of our communication is done via social media. Calling, and of course writing letters are fading away, so you might start wondering if social media is controlling our lives. People say social media can be good and bad, but when do we know which is which? Do we realize it’s bad when we get distracted and run a gel electrophoresis for too long or we have 10 minutes to submit a research proposal? Well, I believe social media is just a tool, we can use it to look up how to write a good research blog post on YouTube or we can spend hours looking at snapchat stories for fun; as you can see, it depends on how we use it.

I personally love social media; I believe it’s a gateway that can help us to remove our mind-set from research and frustration that each failed experiment brings. But everything has a limit. So to my original question, social media is good until we overuse it. For example, Facebook is one of the most famous and used social media platforms in the world, and if you ask any UCSB student they would tell you that checking Facebook is in their daily tasks; students can sell their stuff, from selling girl scout cookies to textbooks. It’s a form of communication between all students at UCSB. So as you can see we can’t just say social media is bad and we should delete all of them to dedicate our time/focus on research. This is why time management is the key, since working excessively in the lab is actually not ideal. So let me ask you: do you really want to learn how to manage your time, or simply just delete all your social media in order to save time?

I believe social media can change a person’s life, just like what it did to me. I always wanted to influence people to reach their goal or optimal level in their educational journey, but I needed a platform so I could have a chance to talk to people around the world. YouTube was exactly the piece of the puzzle I was looking for, so I created a YouTube channel (ErfMed). Of course my first three videos are still embarrassing to me, but as soon as I saw my views escalating from 100 to 1000, I knew I can reach my initial goal. After seeing people that I have never met in my life commenting on my posts and seeing that they appreciate my advice, there was no better feeling.

We all might have crossed this question “What do you really want in this life?” well, I want to stand for something big and if I can be a person that can change a person’s life and for them looking up to me as their leader, what better thing can I even ask for.

It’s always amazing to walk around UCSB campus and see highschool students looking at you awkwardly, before they come up to you and say “Excuse me, are you that youtube guy?”, and I always laugh, because I did not think I would be recognized in such a big school. But hey they don’t say “small world” for no reason. Anyways, I can talk about my youtube channel for days, but the main point that I am trying to cross here is that social media can be used in so many different ways; and I believe all of us can use social media wisely. So please, I encourage you to check out my social media to join my journey:

Youtube: Erfmed
Instagram: ​https://www.instagram.com/erfmed/?hl=en

Urchins, Urchins, and More Urchins!

Most people are unfamiliar with the importance of sea urchins to marine ecosystems. known to many as “uni”, these little spiky balls are more than just a tasty seafood dish. Sea urchins are a keystone species, meaning that too many of them and their habitat becomes barren, too few and their predators lose an important food source.
This summer I am doing research in Dr. Gretchen Hofmann’s lab located in the Marine Science Institute. The Hofmann lab aims to study the physiology and performance of marine organisms in response to both present-day environmental conditions and to expected conditions in the future. My specific research project focuses on examining the effects of varying pH and temperature conditions on the early development of the Painted urchin, Lytechinus pictus. Before we get into the nitty gritty details let me give you a little background. Climate change is happening and it’s occurring at a pace faster than we have anticipated. Our ecosystems are dramatically changing and many different species are having to adapt in order to survive. As the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide, a series of chemical reactions take place. Consequently the ocean becomes more acidic and the supply of carbonate, a chemical compound that is crucial to the development of many organisms, is diminished. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is also causing temperatures to rise and heat waves to occur at temperatures that are alarming. Many marine organisms including sea urchins are sensitive to these environmental changes and are forced to adapt to these conditions.

My research project will require me to work closely with L. pictus as I explore and manipulate their reproductive process and development. By spawning these urchins in the lab, I play a role much like a puppet master. I pick out my male and female urchins and I determine when the urchin eggs are fertilized. I then place the embryos in manipulated growing environments set up to mimic future predicted climate conditions. While observing the offspring develop into larvae, I can observe whether their environmental conditions had any impact on their growth and if they experience physiological changes that impact their performance. Physiological performance is an important topic to research as we do not know what climate change has in store for these marine organisms.

My research does not limit me to just a lab setting but I also will get to experience being out in the field taking samples. This aspect of my research is very exciting to me because research in the lab and out on the field are so different from one another. In the lab, I get to experience new equipment and observe amazing transformations under a microscope. In the field, I get to see nature and see first-hand the environment I am researching. These experiences I have had in the lab and out in the field have strengthened my passion for marine research. It is only the beginning of the summer but I have had such a great experience thus far and I cannot wait for what is to come.

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!

The Importance of Research

Our professors make occasional references to the innovative work in the research on campus, but as an undergrad, we barely get a glimpse of what truly goes on in lab. In first-year lab classes, we are introduced to basic laboratory techniques and gain an understanding on lab safety. It is amazing to see how much lab courses mirror experience as an undergraduate researcher.

For example, in my intro bio lab courses, we had multiple lab practicals that tested our pipetting techniques. Getting the technique down seemed simple enough, once you got the hang of it in lab class. It seemed pretty straightforward, and I never gave it much of a second thought. However, in lab, mastering this technique is important to every experiment. Just last week, I was pipetting volumes of 1 microliter, and a quick slip on my finger could have led to us having to redo that part of the experiment. Another example is learning how to use a centrifuge. Without properly balancing the device, the centrifuge could be damaged, or someone could get injured in lab.

For me, there were also aspects of my undergraduate research experience that were somewhat unexpected. Obviously, you can’t learn all the techniques and procedures that you will have to follow in courses, so there is a certain level of on-the-job training, if you will. To me, I felt as if I was playing a game of catch up, working my way up to understand everything my mentor and the other graduate students in our lab was talking about. One big learning gap for me was my lack of prior experience in coding/computer programming. Without any formal experience, my best bet was to take to the internet and start learning MATLAB through online tutorials. In between work on our experiments, I often search up a tutorial or troubleshooting guide, in an ambitious attempt to finish a code that I have been working on for a couple weeks now.

Although you may be the only undergrad in your lab, it helps too keep in mind that you are embarking on a journey that hundreds of students have began before you. As a Gorman scholar, this feeling of self-doubt is further lifted from your shoulders when you talk with undergrads involved in research in other departments, who face similar challenges as you. The CSEP internships are an amazing experience which I’d recommend to any undergraduate. The programs teach you the applications of research, and how you can appreciate the bigger picture of what your project plays a role in accomplishing. An important part of scientific research is that it is incredibly collaborative, as each paper seems to pass the baton onto the next scientist to help solve the larger problem. In the Dey lab, my project involves making improvements to mRNA sequencing technology, and this project can be applied to scientists studying development or localized diseases. Whether or not your undergraduate experience inspires you to pursue a career in research, it is an incredible opportunity that will heighten your appreciation for science as a whole.