Student Spotlight – Ngoc Nguyen

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Ngoc Nguyen!

Ngoc majors in International Development Studies, Asian American Studies, and Sociology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program (URSP). The title of her project is “Hidden in Plain Sight: On the Legal and Grassroots Organizing against Thai Labor Trafficking in the United States,” which focuses on the role of grassroots organizing in the El Monte case by exploring questions regarding labor laws and rights of immigrant communities. She hopes that her project will bring light to challenges that the Thai community experiences and promote effective change.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Coming from a low-income immigrant family and seeing my parents being exploited by the unjust labor system as they work long hours with low wages have inspired me to pursue an education to learn about immigration and labor law and advocate for the rights of immigrant communities. Although I have always wanted to research immigration and labor law, I did not know what topic I want to pursue until I met my faculty mentor, Professor Jennifer Chun, who suggested that I learn about the El Monte Thai Garment worker case.

Interning for the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) has taught me about the case and the role that non-profit organizations such as the Thai CDC played in the case. I was extremely inspired by the ways in which grassroots organizations, activists, and community members came together in the mid-1990s to demand justice for the workers and create systemic changes. This experience led me to research this case for my senior project. Through this project, I focus on the role of grassroots organizing in the El Monte case by exploring the following questions: How did grassroots organizations, lawyers, and community members come together to advocate for the workers? How was the coalition formed and what role did each organization play? What strategies did these organizations use to advocate against state violence and to demand justice for the workers?

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

The most exciting part of my research has been getting the opportunity to research archival materials about the El Monte case and talking to community organizers who were involved in the labor movement in the 1990s!

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

I never would have expected to grow this much through this process! Not only have I been able to meet and listen to stories of amazing community organizers, but I have also become more inspired to pursue a career in the legal field. Learning about immigration and labor organizing has helped me realize who I want to be, what kind of activist I want to become in the future, and how pursuing a law degree can help me achieve my aspirations.

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

I would advise students to challenge themselves, go out of their comfort zone, and actively pursue opportunities. As a first-generation college student, I struggled to navigate UCLA and find opportunities to pursue research. However, talking to my professors, friends, and mentors has helped me narrow down my research and apply to opportunities.  

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

I hope that my project will bring light to challenges that the Thai community experiences that continue to remain hidden in mainstream discourse and promote integral dialogues about how grassroots organizing can advocate for effective change.

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. 

Student Spotlight – J.W. Clark

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher J.W. Clark!

J.W. majors in Musicology with a minor in Philosophy and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program. The title of their project is “Voicing the Fox: The Zoopolitics of (Re)presenting Vulpine Bodies,” which draws on a number of disciplines including literary studies and critical theory, biosemiotics and behavioral ethology, and analytical philosophy and art history.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

 During my first quarter at UCLA as a new transfer student, I was lucky enough to be able to attend my first academic conference – the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. The first panel of the weekend that I attended was titled “Plants and Animals”; at the time, the panel’s content struck me as incredibly peculiar for musicological work, with such papers as “Becoming-Tree: Heine, Grieg, Sibelius, and Musical Arboreality” (Daniel Grimley) and “Of Donkeys, Dogs, and Schubert: The Sonic as a Meeting Place for Species” (Knar Abrahamyan). While the “cultural animal studies” have generated some worthwhile work in the humanities within the past few decades, at many institutions such approaches are still viewed by traditional musicologists as “fringe” topics, at least with regard to music scholarship. But hearing these rigorous papers at a high-profile national conference made me realize that nothing was really off-limits when it came to scholarship. The whole conference for me was like that; that weekend also marked the start of my serious engagement with feminist, queer, and critical race theory – all of the “New Musicology” – approaches to music scholarship, though nothing stuck with me quite as persistently as that first panel. I ended up picking up a copy of Rachel Mundy’s Animal Musicalities at the book expo on my way out, and from there I really began thinking in earnest about the “animal turn” and how I could bring that more into musicological discourse. I then wrote a course paper in the spring as a kind of test-run for this kind of approach, where I looked at Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen and how animal representation was operating there with regard to the opera’s libretto, score, and staging techniques. I really liked engaging with that line of inquiry and started getting into posthumanist/animal studies scholarship at around the same time, and that more or less laid the groundwork for my current project.

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

The sheer breadth of work I have had to dialogue with has introduced me to countless new fields and subfields of which I had little or no prior knowledge of beforehand. “Animal studies” is far from a unified area of research; particularly given the lack of existing music scholarship on my topic, I’ve been drawing on everything from literary studies and critical theory, to biosemiotics and behavioral ethology, to analytical philosophy and art history. It’s been an immensely rewarding process.

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

I continue to be caught off-guard by the depth and pervasiveness of hegemony in the form of human exceptionalism; every time I think I’ve gotten to the bottom, something else comes along – a new comparison I hadn’t thought of, a nuanced apprehension of a certain relationship – and forces me to reevaluate what I think I know all over again. Getting “outside” anthropomorphisms is impossible given our status as humans, but at times it becomes incredibly easy to forget that that they exist. This is particularly the case when working with nonhuman animal representations in our artistic and cultural artefacts, given they are overwhelmingly ubiquitous in day-to-day life. This project has required a constant reimagination of what it would truly mean to relate to other species in a mutually respectful way.

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

A lot of people (myself included) tend to stress initially over finding a line of inquiry that hasn’t been done before – because there is so much scholarship out there, it often seems like there is nothing meaningful you can contribute to your given field, especially as an undergrad. Don’t worry about coming up with something uniquely “original” – reflect on what you’re already interested in and connect those existing strands to your discipline and to each other. In my opinion, the most exciting and productive scholarship emerges from individuals who employ their field to work for them, rather than imposing limits on their work to fit rigid disciplinary boundaries. At base, research, reading, and just expanding your horizons in general allows you to better and more rewardingly reterritorialize what you already have.

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

I’d like to push everyone who comes in contact with me and my work to scrutinize the habitual ways in which they navigate the world. We, as humans, have continued to orchestrate a horrifying genocide of mind-numbing proportions against those we have deemed to be “subhuman.” Most egregiously (though the least acknowledged) has been the violent subjugation of countless other animals, but comparable strategies have been and continue to be deployed against marginalized groups within our own species. Despite a popular conception to the contrary, music-making, and art general, is inherently political, and thus cannot be separated from such acts. Following Susan McHugh’s call to investigate how “forms of representation matter to the development of theories of species life” in her work on animal fictions, I hope to impress upon people the importance of critiquing how we look at, listen to, and talk about others.

Student Spotlight – Ivana Dama

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Ivana Dama!

Ivana majors in Design Media Arts with a minor in Digital Humanities and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program. The title of her research project is “Music Map.”

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Before coming to UCLA, I never thought that the School of Arts and Architecture would be a great place for research. I believed that only scientists did research projects. I soon realized that most of professors were conducting research in the art field, and I got inspired to change my art practice approach. My work became an ongoing experiment in which I wasn’t only focused on the final project; the process became an important aspect of my work. During my second year, I became a member of the Art|Sci Center at UCLA, where I was able to work closely with scientists on research-based art projects.

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

My project is called a Music Map, and my goal is to explore untraditional ways to play an instrument. The users will be able to create a musical composition by changing their geographic location. The most exciting part of my project is testing the application and applying that knowledge to my research paper. Another exciting moment was in the initial stage of the process, when I searched for similar projects and experiments done in the past. It is fascinating to realize how many similar technologies were used for different purposes.

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

The biggest surprise in my research project was a public interest in my work. Many people offered to test my application, and I was really grateful for that. When we are so focused on our projects, it is essential to hear different opinions and fresh perspectives on the same subject. As I’m moving forward with my research, I’m surprised each day with the Undergraduate Research Center’s generous support.

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

My biggest advice for all UCLA students interested in research is not to be afraid to ask for help or advice. Even though most of our professors and mentors seem busy, they are almost always interested in hearing new research ideas and projects in their fields. I was positively surprised by the incredible feedback I got from many of my previous professors.

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

My goal is to create an open-source application that will enable anyone to generate a musical composition. For centuries, only skilled people could play an instrument, and I’m hoping to change that. This application will allow UCLA to have a site-specific interactive map application with dynamic audio sources, users as audio sources, pervasive/ubiquitous games, and social networks.

Student Spotlight – Liv Slaby

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Liv Slaby!

Liv majors in Musicology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I’m pursuing a graduate degree in dramatic writing, so I knew I wanted my Musicology capstone project to be a creative piece. I constructed a plot that draws on several of my academic interests and takes place in an almost-underwater San Francisco in 2199. Two Earth-born college hockey players, hoping to move to Mars after graduation, find that their climb to the championships is complicated by the arrival of a new Martian teammate who reveals that the colony is no longer habitable. This project cites queer theory and literature as well as New Queer Cinema, which I use with sound and voice studies scholarship to explore queer, female, and non-binary embodiment in the context of sports and audio drama. I also employ science fiction techniques to explore the interpersonal and environmental concerns of my characters.

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

I’ve enjoyed reading, watching, and listening to the diverse scholarly and creative texts that comprise my bibliography. I’ve been influenced by the works of Deleuze and Guattari, Todd Haynes, Jack Halberstam, Timothy Morton, Samuel R. Delany, and Nina Eidsheim. Exploring the possibilities of sound as a dramatic medium is something I didn’t foresee myself doing as a writer, but it’s been fascinating getting to know my characters in the context of how their voices and sonic environments will embody them in listeners’ imaginations.

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

When I applied for URSP, I thought I’d spend the year writing the script for a staged theatrical piece. However, due to the impact of social distancing on theatrical practice, I decided it would be more pragmatic to explore ideas of isolation, disorientation, and uncertain futures through an auditory medium. Now, I’ll finish the (shorter) script this winter and spend much of the year recording and producing the piece so I can present a fully realized audio drama at Undergraduate Research Week in May.

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

I recommend working with a mentor or project advisors with whom you connect and feel comfortable sharing your first drafts and half-formed ideas. Writing isn’t easy with only your own head as a sounding board, and it’s helpful to have a mentor who keeps your timeline on track and is available for you to discuss and develop your ideas through conversation.

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

I hope that I will encourage listeners to be aware of the assumptions they make about the “locations” of the voices, including demographic information like race, gender, and age. In our predominantly visual society, I aim to draw attention to sound’s multisensory forms and potential for interpersonal connection. By dealing with embodiment in a disembodied medium, I hope to illuminate the ways we orient ourselves to our own bodies and to entities we perceive as others, and to explore compassion through sonic perception.

Student Spotlight – Angela Rey

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Angela Rey!

Angela majors in Global Jazz Studies and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program. The title of her research project is “Osos Unidos.”

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I became inspired to put together this project because of the initial culture shock I experienced transferring into UCLA from a community college. At my community college in the Bay Area, I had access to a Latinx resource center, an Asian resource center, a Filipinx resource center, a Pacific Islander resource center, and more. Outside of community college, I was also involved with the musical community that existed at SFSU and other colleges throughout the Bay Area, where there were also abundant resources for students of specific demographics. When I transferred to UCLA in the fall of 2019, I was in shock for many reasons, but one thing that stuck with me throughout my first year was that there was no fully established or fully funded Black or Latinx resource center. As the nation’s #1 public university, UCLA can do better, and I know that it is part of the students’ responsibility to uphold that elite title. So, I took it into my own hands to put together this project. Because UCLA announced this past summer that they will create a Black Resource Center (in response to the national attention surrounding the case of George Floyd), I will be focusing on establishing Osos Unidos, a Latinx resource center. I will also hold the school accountable for the promise that they made regarding the Black Resource Center.

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

The most exciting aspect of my research is learning about student, alumni, faculty, and staff involvement with the Latinx population on campus, especially from those who are already in my social circle whose engagement or excitement about engagement was not previously known to me. Seeing all these people around me is encouraging and their support in my project makes me feel more part of a community.

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

It is surprising to me how much more difficult it is to reach out to others during COVID-19. I initially assumed people would be spending more time online and have fewer physical barriers to meet, since remote discussion is more accessible than the alternative. I didn’t take into account how much screen time everyone is trying to manage and how “Zoomed out” people are getting. Because my research project revolves around creating a physical space on campus, being away from it and the UCLA student, alumni, faculty, and staff body has created a barrier. However, I’ve learned that time management and consistency is key to the progression of this project.

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

Researching is an incredibly rewarding task. It is not easy, but time management and team development are what will define the success of your project. Do not be afraid to ask for help; just because you are the researcher does not mean others can’t support you.

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

I hope that creating the Osos Unidos Resource Center will unify the Latinx population at UCLA, create a stronger Latinx community in LA, and set an example for other schools to provide the resources needed for all students to succeed in and outside of the classroom.

Student Spotlight – Caleb Kealoha

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Caleb Kealoha!

Caleb majors in Psychology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program. The title of his research project is “We are (not) in Synch: Inter-brain Synchrony during Interpersonal Conflict.”

How did you first get interested in your research project?

In my first quarter as a transfer student at UCLA, I took a social psychology course with Dr. Matthew Lieberman. I quickly became enamored with this area of psychology, as I realized that I think about the world like a social psychologist. Wanting to learn more, I frequently attended Dr. Lieberman’s office hours and delved into the literature he recommended. Over time, he helped me develop my research interests and introduced me to the field of social neuroscience, a growing branch of social psychology that intersects with cognitive psychology and neuroscience.  With Dr. Lieberman’s help, I have investigated a topic of research I find important: interpersonal conflict. My honors thesis project uses neuroimaging to identify the neural signatures of interpersonal conflict within face-to-face interaction.

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

Overseeing a research project from beginning to end has been a rewarding experience. Each step in the research process brings about a new challenge, and finding ways to overcome these challenges can be a very engaging process. The most exciting aspect of my research has been building the skills and knowledge that will help me succeed as a researcher in the field of social neuroscience. Also, getting to interface with our neuroimaging equipment—functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)—has been really cool!

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

I was surprised to find that successful researchers are jacks-of-all-trades. One minute you may play the role of a theorizer, connecting premise to premise to form a logical argument in support of the research question you are investigating. In the next moment, you might take on the role of a leader, managing a team of research assistants as they follow complex protocols to acquire data. In the same day, you might adopt the role of a writer or a public speaker, illustrating your work and conveying its importance to a broad audience. Navigating the research process feels like a constant interchange between different responsibilities, which I find enjoyable and have grown to love.

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

Take time to reflect on what drives you. Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing? What do I enjoy thinking about? Is there something in the world I want to know more about or fix? Is there a question I’ve always had that I haven’t seen anyone find an answer to?” Use these questions to guide the types of research opportunities you pursue. Research is a fun and fulfilling experience when you care about what you are researching! Instead of pursuing research for the sake of just having done research, pursue research that aligns with what you are passionate about and motivated by.

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

With my honors thesis project, I aim to find a reliable neural signature for interpersonal conflict, in hopes of using this neural signature in the verification and improvement of current conflict interventions and in the development of future conflict resolution strategies. In the future, my goal is to continue conducting research in social neuroscience that can be translated into increased understanding and collaboration between people of all identities and walks of life. UCLA has been integral to my development as a researcher, and I intend to represent UCLA as I continue forward with my aspirations in research.

Student Spotlight – Tania Nasrollahi

Tania Nasrollahi and her mentor, Dr. Kevan Harris

Meet third-year undergraduate researcher Tania Nasrollahi!

Tania majors in Sociology and Anthropology and is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. Her research project is titled “Internal Perceptions of Iranian-American Ethno-Racial Boundaries.”

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I became interested in my project when I suddenly experienced an external shift in how people perceived my racial status. When I briefly lived in Ohio, people saw my Iranian identity as more “exotic.” Comparatively, in Los Angeles, I am often seen as white. Ethno-racial identity is a big topic of debate among individuals living in the US who identify as Iranian. A survey recently revealed that older Iranian-Americans are more likely to identify as white than younger Iranian-Americans. I am interested in the social contexts and factors that lead one to arrive at or even shift their perception of their ethno-racial identity.

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

The most exciting part of my research so far has been exploring the literature and expanding the way I use readings in my understanding of a research project. Rather than exclusively looking at readings as they pertain to Iranian-American identity, I’ve been reading sociological studies of race that have expanded the ways I think about race and ethnicity more generally.

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

I am still surprised by how different academic writing is from what I initially thought it was. I have learned a lot about writing since starting my project, and I am enjoying the process of becoming a better writer. I am still learning, but I am comforted by the fact that many of those I look up to have been where I am.

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

Pick a topic you are wholeheartedly interested in, because you will be thinking about it for months, at least! But also expect your project to change as you start the research process. Additionally, get to know your mentor before signing a research contract. I am so grateful to have found such an involved, dedicated mentor. However, it can be difficult for faculty to find time to support new researchers. Consider the research fit between you and your potential mentor, but make sure that you have a good working dynamic as well.

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

My interest in social science research is fueled by my desire to address people’s lived experiences through my work. The field of sociology interests me because of the influence society has on the individual. Any sociological research that can speak to this dynamic reveals something fundamental about how we live. At UCLA and beyond, I want to continue the study of racial boundaries, immigration, acculturation, and diaspora. I want for people both to see others and feel seen in my research.