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.

Participating in Undergraduate Research Programs & Navigating the Research Process, by Rocio Sanchez-Nolasco

Research programs were a vital part of my undergraduate education at UCLA. Over the course of my sophomore, junior, and senior years, I participated in Spring into Research (now Research Revealed), the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP), and the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP). These programs provided a unique opportunity for me to develop vital skills and become part of a network of undergraduate researchers. Each program provided structure, resources, and support at different stages of my research journey. They allowed me to explore my personal interests, grow as a researcher, and navigate my undergraduate career.

I first learned about undergraduate research from other Art History students by hearing about their thesis projects and personal academic pursuits. After gaining interest in conducting independent research, I applied to Spring into Research. The program’s workshops and assignments helped me understand the research process and realistically explore the possibility of conducting research. For example, as part of the program, I identified and interviewed Professor Charlene Villaseñor Black as a potential research mentor. She went on to become my research mentor during my junior year and my honors thesis advisor during my senior year. I also attended Undergraduate Research Week for the first time, where I saw different presentation styles for sharing research. Throughout all of these opportunities, I met other undergraduate students with varied, unique research interests and gained a more comprehensive understanding of what the research process entailed.

After Spring into Research, I started to think about how I would conduct art historical research. I decided to pursue the Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP) with a broad idea for my research topic (contemporary Chicano art) and with the intention of working with primary archival materials at the Chicano Studies Research Center Library. The requirements for this program pushed me to delve further into my research interests and develop a concrete research plan. I put into practice essential aspects of undergraduate research, such as enrolling in a contract course, meeting regularly with my research mentor, and working on my time management skills.

My research topic changed when I pinpointed an unaddressed area of art historical discourse: the photography of contemporary Chicana artist Patssi Valdez. While researching Valdez, I expanded my public presentation skills by presenting my preliminary research findings during Undergraduate Research Week. This led to an opportunity to publish my research with Sanguine Gallery!

While Spring into Research served as a well-rounded introduction or blueprint for the research process, URFP became an opportunity to adjust this blueprint to cater to my own project. URFP served as a series of “firsts” that allowed me to take a hands-on approach to the research process.

While part of URFP, I also learned about Aleph—UCLA’s Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences—and decided to join as a layout editor to gain new skills. As a layout editor, I learned how to use Adobe InDesign to help prepare the journal for print publication and gained insight into the publishing process. I continued with Aleph as an editor for the 2018-2019 edition from beginning to end. This allowed me to learn about the work that goes behind the journal, ranging from the selection process, the early development stages, copyediting, and the final formatting of the journal. This proved an insightful experience to learn more about other students’ research, gain hands-on experience, learn about the publishing process, as well as an opportunity to step into a different role and reflect on my own research.

After URFP, I wanted to showcase the research I had completed into a departmental honors thesis. While participating in URSP, I delved into the writing process and focused on transforming a series of endless notes and annotated bibliographies into a concrete research paper. My research project, “Chicana Agency in 1980s Los Angeles Punk: The Photography of Patssi Valdez,” focused on the photography of the contemporary Chicana artist Patssi Valdez through the lens of punk aesthetics and Chicana Feminism. It delved into the history of Los Angeles punk rock and explored the contributions of Chicanas to shed light on an understudied area of Valdez’s career. The final stretch of my project consisted of editing my thesis paper and pushing myself outside my comfort zone to present my research during Undergraduate Research Week for both the oral presentations and poster session. URFP allowed me to establish the foundation of my research project and clearly identify what I wanted to accomplish. URSP allowed me to fulfill these goals and to think about my research interests beyond my undergraduate education.

Each research program provided the unique opportunity to experience a sense of community. No matter how niche or broad your research interests may be or whatever stage your project is in, having the opportunity to connect with peer researchers reminds you that you are not the only one learning to navigate the research process for the first time and that conducting research does not have to be a solitary endeavor. Undergraduate research programs at UCLA provided me with valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth throughout my research journey.

Student Spotlight – Therese Boles

Meet fourth-year UCLA undergraduate researcher Therese Boles!

Therese majors in History and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The title of her research project is “Sensationalism! Newspaper Coverage at the Homestead Strike of 1892.”

How did you first get interested in your research project?

My research project had its beginnings during my first year at UCLA. I took the class “The American Gilded Age (1865-1900)” with Professor Joan Waugh, and fell in love with this period of America’s history. I then developed an appreciation for researching with newspapers during my third year when I took a seminar on “Loyalists in the American Revolution” with Professor Craig. There, I researched a Loyalist newspaper printed in New York during the war, which sparked my curiosity about how newspapers operate and shape public opinion.

I decided to combine my interests in the Gilded Age and newspapers by studying the news coverage of the great Homestead Strike that occurred in 1892 at a steel mill belonging to “robber baron” Andrew Carnegie. Contemporary questions about “fake news” inspired the lens for my investigation: How were newspapers involved in this conflict? What was their coverage like? How did coverage change based on the source? Did readers trust the news? Did it affect their response to the strike? I’m hoping to answer all of these questions by telling the story of newspapers at Homestead.

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

The most exciting part of my research has been getting to travel and research at archives in Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. One of the archives I visited was in the very building that the journalists operated in during the Homestead Strike. It was one of those surreal “bridge-between-time” moments.

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

I have been surprised at how hard it is to keep a narrow scope when researching. When there is a wealth of sources and you find it all interesting, you have to be very mindful about sticking to researching ideas or events that are most relevant to your topic.

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

Go into research with a sense of curiosity and a love for the search! Sure, research looks good on your resume. But it’s not worth it unless you enjoy the process.

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

First, I hope to inform and entertain readers with a story that has not yet been told—the story of newspaper coverage at the 1892 Homestead Strike. But I also hope that the story gives readers a sense of affinity with the Gilded Age Americans of the past, for their relationship with the news is surprisingly similar to our own.

Student Spotlight – Julia Nakamura

Meet fourth-year UCLA student researcher Julia Nakamura!

Julia majors in Psychobiology with a minor in Gerontology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The title of her research project is “The Role of Social Support in the Association between Early Life Stress, Depression, and Inflammation in Older Adults.”

 

How did you first get interested in your research project?

UCLA’s Cluster course “Frontiers in Human Aging” initially sparked my interest in aging populations. Through a service learning project at ONEgeneration Adult Day Care Center, I directly witnessed the burden of chronic disease in later-life adults and realized the pressing need to understand the mechanisms underlying these adverse health outcomes. Through my coursework in psychology, I became interested in the psychological factors that influence biological mechanisms and have the potential to positively impact the trajectory of chronic disease outcomes.

I began research in psychology in Dr. Julienne Bower’s Mind-Body Lab under the direction of Dr. Kate Kuhlman. We study the effects of childhood adversity on biological and behavioral responses to psychological stress. My experiences in this lab led me to wonder what factors could mitigate adverse physical and mental health outcomes from stressful experiences, specifically in older adults. My honors research projects examines if social support moderates the relationship between early-life stress, depressive symptoms, and inflammation in older adults using data from the Health and Retirement Study.

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

Getting to test my own research questions has been the best part of this project. Specifically, it has been really exciting for me to run my own data analyses for the first time with Dr. Kuhlman’s guidance. Experiencing the “behind-the-scenes” of research and systematically moving through the steps of conducting an independent project has been really informative. This project has helped me to feel that I am truly developing the skill set of an independent researcher, which is very exciting!

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

The immensely collaborative nature of research in academia was quite surprising to me when I first started on this project. Through my research, I’ve had the privilege of working with several scientists and professors who are experts in their respective areas of study. They have all welcomed me and helped to make my project as scientifically sound and comprehensive as possible. Research really builds on itself. Learning from other people’s projects and ideas, even if they are outside of your immediate area of study, can result in high levels of collaboration and really interesting research!

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

I would advise students interested in research to actively pursue research opportunities. There are plenty of amazing opportunities to be involved in research at UCLA, but you have to seek them out. It can be intimidating to take the initial steps to reach out to professors and discuss their research interests, but it is so worthwhile to find a lab and professor that are a good fit! I would recommend that students find an area of study that they are really passionate about. I think that your passion for your area of study and your continued curiosity will drive your research questions and help you get the most out of each research experience.

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

I hope to spend my life contributing to our understanding of the biobehavioral processes that promote mental and physical health across the lifespan. As the number of older adults (a majority of whom have at least one chronic disease) increase in our society, it is now more important than ever to identify potential intervention targets that can improve the trajectory of chronic disease outcomes.