MCB major Neha Arun shares her experiences working as an undergraduate researcher in Professor Collin Kieffer's lab in the Department of Microbiology, as well as a look at life outside the lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Can you summarize your research in the Kieffer Lab?
My current research in Dr. Collin Kieffer’s lab seeks to optimize a cell line model of HIV latency to structurally characterize virological synapse formation and its impact on viral spread. The research in our lab focuses on using advanced imaging techniques to visualize HIV pathogenesis in tissues with the goals of understanding relevant modes of virus dissemination, investigating the latent virus reservoir, and characterizing the effectiveness of anti-HIV therapies.
Please share the aspect of being an undergraduate researcher that you're most proud and excited about.
As an undergraduate researcher, I have had the unique opportunity to pursue my own independent project in the lab and get to see my questions answered directly by my own research. I’ve had opportunities like at Mayo Clinic, where I learned a lot through working alongside others, but Dr. Kieffer has supported my independent inquiry into HIV pathogenesis, which allowed me to answer questions about virus-host interactions and present my own findings at the UIUC Undergraduate Research Symposium (for which I received Outstanding Oral Presentation)!
What do you enjoy doing on campus outside of the lab?
Outside of the lab, I spend most of my time dancing with my RSO Truth and Beauty (TNB)! We’ve formed an inclusive community of dancers and performed at the internationally renowned Urbanite as well as hosted our own national-level dance competition. I also enjoy exploring the campus community with my friends by visiting local art fairs, Japan House, and the numerous boba shops. As a Stamps Scholar and Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) member, I further engage myself with the community through volunteering, where I’ve helped provide free dinners for the community and raise money and awareness for the homeless.
Do you have any advice for students who want to do undergraduate research as well?
My advice for students interested in undergraduate research is to start early if you want to explore the interesting parts of science. It’s never too late to join a lab, but the earlier you can learn the techniques and lab basics, the more time you can spend asking new questions and collecting your own data. It’s as easy as looking up professors in the department you’re interested in and sending them an email! The Office of Undergraduate Research has plenty of resources to get you started.