Peter Ramirez
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Undergraduate research internships in academia and with industry helped Peter Ramirez win a full ride as a Ph.D. candidate in molecular biology at the University of Utah after he graduated from UCSB.

Peter, a biochemistry-molecular biology major, began his undergraduate research career in the lab of Professor Craig Hawker during the spring quarter of his freshmen year, working on the self-assembly of nanostructures from amphiphilic comb polymers.

Peter also completed summer programs before his freshman year with Expanding Pathways to Science, Engineering and Mathematics (EPSEM) and the Summer Institute in Mathematics and Science (SIMS), hosted by the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCSB. Apart from the experience, the connections he made in the programs also paid off for him. His mentor for EPSEM was a grad student in Hawker’s lab, which helped him land the spot working in the lab as a freshman. Ofelia Aguirre, academic coordinator of the EPSEM and SIMS programs, also had outlined opportunities and funding to do research as a freshman.

“I’m lucky I was able to do the programs,” he explains.

Internships with industry added to his experience. The summer after his sophomore year, he got a research position with Genentech in San Francisco through a campus organization, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Peter served as both a member and officer of the club. When a UCSB alumnus and research scientist at Genentech came to speak to the club, Peter used that connection to land a summer intern position at the company in the protein chemistry department. While there, Peter worked on optimizing and modifying a cell-adhesion protein micro array, looking for novel T cell interactions.

His final internship was with Dako, an immunological staining company, from February of his junior year until September of his senior year. As a side project, he worked with a mentor at Dako on citing any differences in antibody staining patterns between tissue fixed slides of prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Peter and his mentor made an intriguing discovery. Upon subsequent staining of specific slides, they noticed that one antibody seemed to stain only prostate cancer and not BPH. No antibody had yet been found that specifically stained prostate cancer and not BPH. Moreover, the antibody that was found to do this had not previously had any specificity in prostate cancer.

Overall, Peter says, undergraduate research gave him the experience and confidence to go on to grad school.

“Being in a lab, finding some success, really helps you see what research is all about,” he says. “You get to devise new ways of thinking about and doing research.”

Eventually, Peter would like to teach, or direct an outreach program like EPSEM, helping other young scholars learn about research.

“I’m probably most grateful for the SIMS, EPSEM and SACNAS programs,” he says. “Sometimes it’s kind of hard, especially when you come from a small town that doesn’t offer a lot of math and science opportunities.”