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The Fall Research Expo at Houston Hall in 2019.

Undergraduate students who were involved in research over the summer presented their work at a research exposition and reflected on their research experiences.

Over 350 undergraduates presented their research at the Fall Research Expo 2022, hosted by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships on Sept. 19. Posters were displayed from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. throughout Houston Hall. Poster topics ranged from historical analyses of literature to identifying genetic markers for diabetes.

All students who wished to present their research were welcomed to apply, Senior Associate Director for Undergraduate Research Ann Vernon-Grey wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

“Presenting one’s work is a fundamental part of the research process,” Vernon-Grey said. “It offers students a multitude of benefits from the more obvious — a chance to get feedback to the less so — a chance to find and interact with other like-minded, research-oriented peers.”

Students' research projects were funded by Penn programs from the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program to the Summer Humanities Internship Program, among others.

College sophomore Bianca Rodriguez-Diaz, who participated in PURM this summer, worked on identifying the genetic markers of Type 2 diabetes in Lorraine Katz’s lab in the Division of Endocrinology and Clinical Genetics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Rodriguez-Diaz told the DP that this was her first time doing in-person research, previously only being involved in remote opportunities. She said she applied to PURM to get a better understanding of her goals after college.

“I wanted to get more information on what I wanted to do, in terms of the clinical or research side of things postgraduate,” Rodriguez-Diaz said.

Along with getting both research and clinical shadowing experience through her lab, she said that PURM provided fireside chats with professors to discuss “professional development opportunities.”

“I definitely realized I’m more of a research-oriented person, rather than going into the clinical sciences,” Rodriguez-Diaz said. “It kind of shaped my idea of getting a Ph.D., and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

College first year Christina Cappola told the DP that PURM gave her the opportunity to participate in a novel research experience. Cappola worked in a lab in the Department of Chemistry on a project studying two key proteins involved in the fast endophilin-mediated endocytosis, or FEME, pathway in cells.

Cappola said her research was an “enriching experience,” and she was able to learn new lab techniques such as protein purification, antibody staining, and gel electrophoresis over the summer.

"There are several qualities I've learned that are really helpful when working in a lab, like patience and diligence," she said. “If things go wrong [in the lab], you have to pause, reassess, and try to figure out where you went wrong and how you can adjust your technique for the future,” she said.

Both students said they found the PURM program to be a great pipeline into research. 

“I was always curious about doing research and I’m also interested in science,” Cappola said. “I think it’s really great that they provide freshmen the opportunity to dive straight into research.”

Rodriguez-Diaz said that PURM made research more accessible to undergraduate students.

“PURM is actually really good because you can just apply and get research, versus having to cold email,” Rodriguez-Diaz said. She added she thought it would be beneficial if CURF offered such an opportunity throughout the school year as well.

In addition to PURM, CURF has additional programs that fund undergraduate research.

College senior Emma DeMonte, a student in the honors thesis program, received funding from the College Alumni Society Research Grant for her research project with Sarah Gronningsater in Penn's History Department. DeMonte spent the summer at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati examining the relationship between Harriet Beecher Stowe and her son Charles. 

“[The research grant] allowed me to travel to Cincinnati, where I was working. It also got me through a lot of paywalls for journal articles and genealogical societies as well,” DeMonte said.  

DeMonte added that her summer research experience inspired her to go into law school and work in museums in the future.

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, CURF created a virtual research poster hall called Penn Presents. The office continues to update the website with students' research posters.

“We look forward to having a permanent repository of all the students’ hard work, and also a place where those who weren’t able to attend in person can go and peruse the research,” Vernon-Grey said.