Q&A with summer research and undergraduate student Carl Ren

Friday, November 2, 2012
Carl Ren
Carl Ren, LMP undergraduate student

How did you find your summer research placement? I heard about the opportunity for summer research from a graduate student who said that it was a great experience. I then visited the LMP website and applied to several professors who were involved in my area of interest. There were many professors involved in a broad range of research who were glad to accept new students, so it was important for me to just try to get accepted. I just gave it my best.  

What are you currently researching? Dr. Gerold Schmitt-Ulms currently supervises my research project at the Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases. The project involves looking at the functional role of prions, the infective agent responsible for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease in cattle.

What do you like most about conducting research in the lab? The majority of the lab courses offered at the undergraduate level only feature pre-designed lab courses that are relatively straightforward. These lab courses often involve techniques to conduct experiments and all experiments are based on pre-existing knowledge. In practice, research is much different in length and result. My experience with the Summer Research Program showed me that you can never be too certain about the implication of your results. I discovered that I really enjoyed this uncertainty and the challenges that it presents.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a summer research student? The most challenging thing for me is to keep up to date with current research. This is really important especially when you’re starting off in a new area of research. The task of going through the literature related to your field can be overwhelming because it is hard to know where to start. When faced with this challenge, it is better to start with highly-regarded articles, and then see who’s publishing what and become your own detective. It adds another layer to research because you’re researching your specific project but you have to be aware of what everyone else is doing in the field as well.

What is the most interesting thing you've learned from your research? Most knowledge in science is still uncertain and it is interesting to see how trends quickly develop in research. While the science presented in the classroom is accurate, it is interesting to learn about projects that are advancing research and pushing the boundaries. If you are involved in research, you are part of this exciting movement!  

What advice would you give to prospective summer research program students? Be honest with yourself and others, and consider why you want to go into research. After that, set a goal, and consider what you want to get out of the process. The moment you clarify that answer, it will define your behavior and expectations.