The University of Texas at Austin is one of the leading undergraduate research facilities in the nation, offering opportunities in fields such as chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology, molecular biology, physics, astronomy, and computer science. Tahseen Karim, a third year biochemistry honors and public health major, is one of the thousands of students who participate in research at the University of Texas. Here, he describes his research for Dr. Karen Vasquez’s lab, explains its significance, and gives advice to future and current students interested in research.
When and how did you first get involved with research?
I first became involved in research after joining the Health Science Honors (HSH) Program. All HSH students are encouraged to participate in the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). One of the main reasons I chose UT Austin is because of the numerous research opportunities available as an undergraduate student. I was a member of the Mitochondrial Gene Expression stream for one semester. During that semester, I worked with mitochondrial proteins in yeast while learning fundamental experimental techniques.
Why and how did you join the Vasquez lab?
I came into college with research ideas of my own that I wanted explore. After completing one semester of FRI research, I decided that I wanted to move on to those ideas. One of the hypotheses I had developed involved telomere and gene function. I then went on to find labs that were involved with telomeric research and genomic instability. The Vasquez Lab was one of the first labs I had found and its research goals interested me the most. I emailed Dr. Karen Vasquez to meet, and I was soon offered a position to work for her. Dr. Vasquez and all of the other lab members have been very motivating and reassuring throughout my entire research experience.
Describe the research you do and its significance.
I was given an independent project to work on in August 2011. My objective is to verify which non-B secondary structure of DNA forms at the promoter region of the human c-MYC gene. I can then determine how that specific structure leads to genetic instability and mutagenesis, causing diseases such as Burkitt’s Lymphoma. The mutated c-MYC gene is largely studied due to its great implications in being responsible for many cancers. The potential findings of my research could increase our understanding of how different cancers develop. My project may also improve the targeting of the c-MYC gene when treating cancer.
How has your research experience benefitted your college experience? How do you think your experiences will benefit you in the future?
Although I do not want to continue research after I finish my undergraduate degree, I think that my work has been one of the most valuable experiences of my undergraduate career. Working in the Vasquez Lab has allowed me to develop my time management and critical thinking. My success and failures in the past two years have taught me what it takes to remain passionate about something that can be very time consuming and frustrating. As a future medical school student, I feel I will face similar situations that will question my dedication to certain goals. Regardless, I am still working towards a publication at the Vasquez Lab.
What advice can you give to students in the College of Natural Sciences interested in participating in research?
I think every student in Natural Sciences, especially those interested in pre-health professions, should participate in research. Every student has the potential to discover something truly groundbreaking during their undergraduate career. The University of Texas has limitless possibilities for many types of research, and every student should take advantage of these opportunities. Students are often daunted by or uninterested in research because the scientific process can be uncertain and monotonous. It is important to keep in mind that everyone goes through the same cycles of successes and failures. Students should remain confident and optimistic that their work in lab, no matter how ordinary, will lead to something extraordinary.