Eduardo Cardenas-Torres ’19, Statistics

“I think my main turning point for believing in myself was when I got that first piece of code to run successfully”

For Eduardo Cardenas-Torres, the sky has always been the limit. Growing up, Eduardo idolized both of his parents, people who he saw working tirelessly to provide for the family. He vowed to take full advantage of the opportunity they provided, telling himself then and there he would become the first in the family to receive a master’s degree.

Going to community college didn’t dampen his goal; after two years of making the honors list at SBCC, Eduardo transferred to UCSB as a Statistical Science major, eager to get involved with research.

His perceived inexperience didn’t set him back either. After only one quarter at UCSB– and subsequently only one quarter of upper-division statistics classes under his belt– Eduardo began to reach out to professors for research opportunities.

At first, no one took a chance on Eduardo. But he remained persistent, knowing that getting research experience would be vital to his future.

Finally, Dr. Michael Nava offered Eduardo a position as a Research Assistant in the Department of Statistics and Applied Probability. Nava’s research investigated whether Author diversity affects UC journal publications, and he needed Eduardo to help him clean up and analyze data.

That too came with its struggles for Eduardo. For his first project, he was tasked with coding an API key that would allow the team to gather the data they needed. Eduardo spent an entire week trying to code the key, but couldn’t figure it out. Doubts began to creep in… were the other professors right that he wasn’t ready to do research yet?

Then, something clicked for Eduardo. After talking to his colleagues, Eduardo reprogrammed his code, and ran it once again. This time, it worked like a charm.

“I think my main turning point for believing in myself was when I got that first piece of code to run successfully,” Eduardo said. “It was also great to see how [that code] helped my team members proceed with their section of data management.”

Since then, Eduardo has used his code to collect the names of more than 75,000 authors. From there, he creates a “homophily” index, which analyzes how similar or different the authors of a particular piece are based on their ethnicities. After running his data through linear regressions and cluster analyses, he has found that the more diverse the authors on a piece are, the more likely they are to be cited in UC system publications.

Eduardo also finds himself as the de-facto leader of the group– a far-cry from the kid who couldn’t even find a research position when he started looking.

“I started off just scheduling all of the meetings for the team,” he said. “ From there, I directed the group organically towards what the next steps were [for our research].”

Through it all, the sky remains the limit for Eduardo. He has already gone to three conferences to present his research, including the SAEOPP McNair National Research Conference in Atlanta. In his fourth year now, he is well on his way to accomplishing his goal of going to grad school.

“All the grad school’s I’ve talked with have been really impressed with my research, especially because I’ve used some techniques in my research that they typically teach,” Eduardo said.

Eduardo is quick to credit Dr. Nava in his success, who has created an open and transparent research environment in which Eduardo can both learn and flourish. While Eduardo’s time in his lab may be coming to a close, his experience will impact him for years to come.

“[My research] has made me more passionate about my education and pursuing a graduate degree,” Eduardo said. “ If anyone wonders how research is, all I can say is that it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.”

Choosing a Career Path

Academia or Industry? This seems to a dilemma that almost all students in the science major faced. Just like them, I have not a single clue on what I want to do after I graduate with a degree in Biology. With no one in my family in the science field, both industry and academia seems to be a mystery to me. Thanks to the two amazing events that CSEP put on for the summer intern program (the Dinner with Faculty and the Dinner with Industry) I was given an opportunity to talk to people who are experienced in each field. These two events are extremely helpful for learning what it is like working in industry or in academia.

I have always thought of academia and industry as two parallel worlds that are so different from each other that they never cross path. To my surprise, I found out that there is actually not as big of a difference as I previously believed. Research in the industry and academia actually overlaps in many ways and are very similar in many aspect. Often, professors in research university collaborates with companies for new discoveries and some professors even started their own company. Scientists in the industry also conduct researches in similar fashion as professors. They have to meet deadlines, write research proposal for money, be the leader of the lab just like any research professors. In addition, for science major students who are fresh out of college, working in academia and in industry seems to be very similar as well. Both as a graduate student and as scientist in industry, one always start out with lots of hours behind the bench and slowly rises to a leadership position.
After the opportunity to talk to professors and leaders in industries, I completely change my view on my career path. In both industry and in academia, one has tremendous flexibility to switch from one to another or maybe even work in both.

Learning to Think

Growing up, I have only seen the success of science. From the science textbooks in elementary school to the textbooks in college, there are only the record of success and never the slightest hint of failures or the endless hours or years that scientists spent in the laboratories in order to reached a breakthrough.

Because of this, before I actually started in a research lab, I believed to some degree, that the success of scientists requires only a great idea and the rest comes effortless and fairly quickly. With great idea, scientists simply have to run a few experiments and then they will found their fame achieving and mind blowing discoveries. But this is not what actually happened. Research discoveries is not something that comes easily. It did not happen to the greatest scientists and it will not to me.

My view changed completely after I finally see real life research in action. I have realized that research is a protracted war that requires the presence of both the mind and the body throughout the fight and I was not prepared for any of it when I first started. I was not prepared for those 8 hour experiment, the repeating of experiments, and definitely not for the intense self driven thinking required.

For my first two weeks in the lab, I have been learning and doing one thing and one thing only: the Western blot. Western blot is a technique we used to check for the amount of a specific protein in cells. It is a complicated and lengthy experiment that has more than twenty pages of experimental protocol and takes two whole days to complete. Every step requires great attention to details and delicate hand. When I could finally run the experiment smoothly without many mistakes, I thought that I have already experienced how hard scientific research can be. However, I soon learned that I was wrong.

In a casual conversation with my faculty advisor, Professor Ma, I was asked to explain why we test out the three protein GAT for all samples. While I thought that I understood that it is used to see the consistency of the samples, I found myself stuttering when it came down to explaining the logic behind it and how it does that. This is when I first realized that I have been doing Western blot for a whole week without even taking time to think it through. In the conversation with Professor Ma I learned what really meant the most in research: thinking.

Scientific research requires thinking at all time. The time when waiting for the experiment to be done, the time when analyzing experimental result, or even time when one is just walking from the transferring room to the LiCor machine. Thinking the most important part of scientific research and also the hardest part of it. Research requires a person to step up and embrace the fact that he or she does not know everything but can work hard to learn or think hard to find a logical explanation.

Seeing is believing 2

Hello everyone Robert here again writing my second blog post. A lot has happened in my research since my last post. My research is broken into several stages defining the problem, generating concepts, developing a solution, and finally constructing and designing my microscope. I have completed the first three stages and am currently in the design process where I am creating sketches and using 3-D modeling techniques to build my microscope. From here I will build my microscope in the machine lab and then test it.

Now let’s discuss how this project went overall. This has been a great learning experience for me and has really helped me in asking in-depth questions whenever I learn something new because I had to a lot during this program. This program has also helped me by showing how important it is to be able to explain my work something that I have fond very challenging but will help he a great deal in the future. I would suggest to anyone reading this to do research as an undergrad it will give you an opportunity to explore the world of research and help you decide if that’s the road you want to take in your future career. This has been fun and I hope the best for all who is reading have a great summer!

A Very Busy Quarter

I am super busy this quarter.  Along with my continuing research into increasing the length of DNA nanotubes, I am taking four biology classes and doing some volunteer work with a local medical organization.  As far as my research is going I have an awesome internship with RISE and will presenting some of my data at the SCCUR conference in November.  I am super excited for the latter.  I have a couple of successful ways of increasing the average length of the nanotubes but nothing that gets me to the 100 micron range that I want.  Currently, I am working on a temperature cycling method (slightly hard to explain) and a neat way to increase the frequency of end-to-end joining.  Like all research things are moving slowly but I will eventually get there. Hopefully.

 

~Alex