What advice do you have for undergraduates who are just starting out in research?Devote as much time as you can to your research. While some weeks will be significantly busier than others, it is in your best interest to be as involved as possible. Even if it is not required in your lab, research meetings can really teach you more about your research, and hopefully interest you in the topic even more. Furthermore, do not be afraid to ask questions, especially about your methods. This may seem obvious, but it can sometimes be intimidating to admit that there is something you do not understand. It is better to ask a simple question rather than have to repeat the experiment because of a small mistake.
Gao, X.; Campbell IV, W.A.; Chaibva, M.; Jain, P.; Leslie, A.E.; Frey, S.L.; Legleiter, J. Cholesterol modifies huntingtin binding to, disruption of, and aggregation on lipid membranes (In Review).
When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher. Anyone that knew me as a kid would agree that I loved to go to school and learn about new things. Having watched plenty of Bill Nye the Science Guy growing up, I wanted to teach science in a fun and applicable way.
What are your current plans/career goals beyond the undergraduate?
Currently, I plan on attending graduate school and receiving my Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular biology, or pharmacology. I hope to one day become a researcher in industry or academia.
When did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I began my training in research with Dr. Legleiter the fall semester of my junior year. Ever since I was trained in Dr. Legleiter’s lab, I realized that I really enjoy the research I do for him. Therefore, I have been researching with him ever since.
How long have you been involved in undergraduate research?
I have been involved in undergraduate research for four semesters now, including the summer SURE program.
Why did you choose get involved in undergraduate research?
For me, undergraduate research seemed like a natural next step in my undergraduate career. When I decided that I wanted to start research, I did not have a project or professor in mind. At the time, I simply knew that I wanted to start applying the knowledge I had from classes to a very specific system.
How did you find/connect with your first faculty research adviser?
I searched for professors in the chemistry department online, and found Dr. Legleiter’s website. From there, I read through descriptions of his research and I even read some of his papers. While I did not yet understand the finer details of his research, I used what I knew to formulate questions. Then, I emailed him, expressing my interest in his lab, and mentioned that I would love to learn more about his research and have some of my questions answered.
What is your current research?
Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder with symptoms such as memory loss, involuntary movements, and muscle loss. It is hereditary, where an expansion in the polyglutamine domain of the huntingtin protein leads to protein misfolding. These misfolded proteins then associate with one another to form aggregates of various sizes. These aggregates are classified, based on their shape and size, as oligomers, fibrils, and even large inclusion bodies. These aggregates are toxic to neurons. The huntingtin protein is known to interact with a variety of lipid membranes within cells, and this interaction influences the aggregation process. I am currently studying how lipid membranes impact the ability of small molecules to alter the aggregation of the huntingtin protein. These small molecules represent potential therapeutic agents, but their effectiveness may be limited in a cellular environment that contains numerous lipid membranes.
What skills have you learned by doing research that you would not have learned otherwise (i.e., from lecture alone)?
One of my favorite parts about my research is being able to use an atomic force microscope to image aggregate morphology. Without my undergraduate research experience, I never would have used or learned about atomic force microscopy. While lectures and teaching labs do a great job at teaching undergraduates the fundamental methods used in chemistry and biochemistry research, I never would have learned about certain unique methods that I could use in graduate school. Therefore, undergraduate research is absolutely necessary to discover what one would want to do during their graduate school career.
Have you participated in any other type of undergraduate research program external to WVU?
Over this past summer, I spent a week at the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. While this was not an official program, I learned more about genetics research. In my time there, I helped screen members of an Amish family for a genetic variation that would induce myopathy if they were to take statins, which are drugs that lower cholesterol.