Student Spotlight – Michael To

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Michael To!

Michael majors in Psychology with a minor in Biomedical Research and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program (URSP). The title of his project is “The Outbreak of Anxiety in Tandem with COVID-19: A Health Anxiety and Media Use Analysis,” which he hopes will better illuminate the interaction between health anxiety, media consumption, and psychosomatic symptoms.

How did you first get interested in your research project? 

I’ve had an interest in the interaction between the brain and body for several years, starting with my work on Brain Computer Interfacing Systems to create moveable prosthetics in 2018 at California State University, Fullerton. Through this experience, I realized that I wanted to look at the brain-body interaction in a more macroscopic sense. Upon transferring to UCLA, I was able to meld my interests in the brain and body by looking at the psychosomatic interaction between health anxiety and unexplained somatic symptoms at the Brain and Body Lab. 

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far? 

The most exciting part, for me, is that I work with a diverse, interdisciplinary group of people who wholly enrich my academic experience at UCLA. I love the process of learning, and at the BAB Lab I have been routinely challenged to learn new skills, new programs/tools, and new ideas through the process of interaction with my laboratory peers, my lab managers, and principal investigator. Significant results are exciting and provide a sense of satisfactionbut they are a smaller part of the overall, intellectually stimulating atmosphere I am immersed in through my URSP research experience. 

What has surprised you about your research or the research process? 

The research process is so much more than just sitting at a bench and crunching data. There is a huge outreach portion of research that goes into raising awareness about your work, disseminating that information in your community, and marketing your ongoing studies to future participants. I really enjoy the communication aspect of research, and it’s an area I didn’t know I was interested in until I got involved in my lab. 

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research? 

I would say that its important to keep in mind that research labs need you just as much as you need them! You have leverage, in that sense. Although at times it can be intimidating reaching out to labs, at this stage of our career, principal investigators are not expecting you to have a resume filled with relevant experience. What they are looking for is for you to display an avid curiosity and passion for the subject you are interested in. Research skills can be taught, but passion – well, you have to bring that with you. Be persistent, engage with what you do, and the rest will follow.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world? 

I hope that my research will better illuminate the interaction between health anxiety, media consumption, and psychosomatic symptoms; by having a greater understanding of these relationships, we can develop protective guidelines surrounding healthy media consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as future regional, national and global health crises.