KSU Lab Rats

Undergraduate students learn about graduate-level research and problem-solving.

“The mice are worse than the rats. They like to bite,” says Jessica Mulvany, freshman psychology major. “Rats are much gentler. You just hold them and pet them. As long as you don’t do anything to provoke them, they’re nice.”

For a few hours a week, Mulvany says she spends time out of class taking care of rats and mice in Assistant Professor Aaron Jasnow’s lab in the Department of Psychology as part of her undergraduate research experiment. Before each research shift, Mulvany puts on a white lab coat before handling rats and mice in the lab. She opens one of the cages among many on the shelves, pulls out a black male rat, holds it for five minutes and puts it back. She takes out another rat, holds it for five minutes and puts it back.

“It’s all about getting the rats used to dealing with people before they’re tested on,” Mulvany says.

As Mulvany takes care of the rats and mice, she watches other people walk in and out of the lab, taking care of other jobs such as cleaning the rat cages. Mulvany said undergraduate research isn’t limited to handling rats.

“I have a friend who works in a chemistry lab [conducting undergraduate research], and it’s very different from what I do,” she says. “But the similar thing across the board for all undergraduate researchers is that we’re in a laboratory, and we’re all trying to eliminate variables, keeping things the same across the board. For me, that [means] making sure every rat is handled the same.”

Preparing for professional life 

Undergraduate research allows students to work with a faculty member to complete investigations, experiments or fieldwork in a specific subject.

Soumitra Basu, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, says he accepts five students each year for undergraduate research. Basu has worked with 35 student research assistants in seven years and accepts sophomores and above. He says his students are in the lab 15 to 20 hours a week.

“Students in undergraduate research present their work every week and learn lab techniques,” Basu says. “They are eventually able to do the work on their own after a year.”

Undergraduate research positions are either paid or available as volunteer opportunities or internships for students. Basu says the main thing students learn from the undergraduate research opportunities is problem solving. Most students who have become involved in research have done “very well,” he says.

Perfecting time management

Mary Waddington, freshman chemistry major, is currently completing undergraduate research in the Brasch Lab in Williams Hall with Nicola Brasch, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The Brasch Lab currently consists of three undergraduate students, including Waddington, and five graduate students.

Waddington is researching kinetic and mechanistic efforts on HNO [nitroxyl] when reacted with relevant biological species.Waddington is in the lab an average of 10 hours per week and says the research opportunity has helped her learn time management. “Research is a great way to apply what you learn in class and decide if the field you’re in is a good fit,” she says.

Conducting individual investigation

Ben Shekhtman, junior biology major, is researching sex differences in mice in a neurology lab with Eric Mintz, director of the School of Biomedical Science. Shekhtman says he is in the lab about six hours each week as part of an individual investigation. Always plan for mistakes,” he says. “Scientific research is not a straightforward process.”

Shekhtman is an avid proponent of undergraduate research. “If you don’t do research as an undergrad, when will you do it?” Shekhtman says. “It’s a great way to prepare for graduate-level research.”


POSTED: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 1:04pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 1:11pm
Emily Komorowski