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Students Show Off Projects During Research Week

Whether working in a scientific lab or sifting through data for social science studies, UT undergraduates have lots of research opportunities. Read about their projects.

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Research Week showcases the work undergraduate students are doing in labs or in the field. Through these projects, students connect with faculty while gaining research experience and exploring their own interests, and faculty members gain helping hands conducting their projects while training future researchers. Co-sponsored by the Senate of College Councils and the School of Undergraduate Studies, Research Week 2013 takes place April 15-19.

Meet some of the researchers who will be sharing their experiences during Research Week.

UT senior Duan Quach in the lab

[Photos by Kristin Tommey] 

Duan Quach

Major: Nutritional Sciences
Faculty Supervisor: Linda A. deGraffenried, professor of nutritional sciences
Topic: Assessment of Omega-3 Fatty Acids’ Effect on Attenuating Obesity-induced Cyclooxygenase-2 Activation and Aromatase Expression in Breast Cancer Cells and Adipose Stromal Cells

My research project focuses on how omega-3 fatty acids may be used to improve breast cancer prognosis in obese, postmenopausal women.

What was the most rewarding part of your research experience?

The most rewarding part of my research experience has been how much I feel I have grown mentally. The rigors of academic research have afforded me skills in reading scientific papers, analyzing data and communicating findings. My mentors in the deGraffenried lab have instilled a sense of confidence in my skills as a researcher and as an individual.

How has participating in research affected your undergraduate experience?

Research reinforced my interest in my academic classes. Being on the cutting edge of what I learn in my classes really propels me to think deeply about what my foundational knowledge built in class can contribute to what I am doing in laboratory. In addition, research has allowed me to meet many great people with valuable knowledge and experience who can help me make decisions, from what classes to take to next steps in my career.

UT student Owais Durrani


Owais Durrani

Major:  Government and Biology
Faculty Supervisor: Sean Theriault, professor of government
Topic: The Effect of Committee Assignments On Electoral Success for Members of the U.S. House

The United States Congress is composed of numerous committees that each deal with a specific issue. Some of these committees are considered more prestigious than others. My project centers on comparing the electoral success of members with appointments to less prestigious committees to members with appointments to more prestigious committees.

How has participating in research affected your undergraduate experience?

Undergraduate research has been by far the highlight of my college education. My experiences with research have allowed me to push myself intellectually in a way that we don’t experience in everyday class. More importantly, I have gained an appreciation for working collaboratively with others. I can say without a doubt that I am a better-rounded individual because of my research experiences.

What surprised you during the research process?

A lot of things surprised me! I didn’t realize how many resources were available to us as students of the university. Furthermore, everyone from professors to TAs are willing to help out if you ask for it. Having participated in biological research as well as research in government, I was truly surprised by how many similarities exist between the two. This goes to say that on a basic level, research instills in us skills that can be used to solve problems in any discipline.

UT finance major Samantha Speakmon


Samantha Speakmon

Major:  Business Honors and Finance
Faculty Supervisor: Laura Starks, professor of finance
Topic: Financial Impacts of the BP Oil Spill

I studied how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and its resulting environmental damage affected BP’s market value. I wanted to study how environmental disasters are understood and valued by the market. I looked at how BP’s stock price changed in the months following the oil spill; instead of an immediate reaction, investors devalued BP’s stock incrementally.

How has participating in research affected your undergraduate experience?

Researching the financial implications of the oil spill gave me an opportunity to see a real-life example of concepts I learned in Professor Starks’s class as well as in my other finance classes.

Do you think getting involved in research will be helpful to you in the future? If so, how?

It has already helped me. Learning how to apply financial theory to real-life events and then synthesize the results into a concise report are important skills in the business world.

UT student Allison Matous


Allison Matous

Major: Sociology
Faculty Supervisor: Sheldon Ekland-Olson, professor of sociology
Topic: Dead Man Walking: An Analysis of Last Statement Testimonies of Texas Inmates

My study concentrates on the last statements of prisoners who have been executed in Texas since 1982. This research involves an extensive coding scheme with nearly 20 variables, including the prisoner’s race, age and ethnicity, as well as the themes in the last statements such as religion, remorse, family, anger and an overall assessment of the justice system.

What surprised you during the research process?

I had never administered my own research and was surprised how much I enjoy working on my project. At first I was overwhelmed at the thought of analyzing 493 last statements, but I frequently lose track of time when I work on my research.

What advice would you give to incoming and current students about getting involved in research?

My advice is the sooner you begin during your undergraduate career, the better. As a result, many doors will open that will benefit you as a student. I would also recommend researching a topic you have plenty of interest in, because you will spend a lot of time working on it.

UT student Joe Ramos


Joe Ramos

Major:  Business and Neuroscience
Faculty Supervisors: Audrey Sorrells, professor of special education, and Heather Cole, graduate student in special education
Topic: The L.E.A.P. Program’s Effect on Mentors

This research project aims to collect both survey data and qualitative data (in the form of personal statements and interview questions) to identify effects the L.E.A.P. Program [Leadership Education And Progress] has on mentors. The effects may range from increased involvement and better grades to changes in career choices.

Do you think getting involved in research will be helpful to you in the future? If so, how?

The research I have done here has been so helpful and so impactful that I am currently reconsidering career options. I always have been determined to become a medical doctor, though there is a lot that a medical doctor can do besides patient interaction. There is an entire field of research out there that I never knew existed. Because I have engaged in research, I feel as though there are now many career options that I could be equally happy pursuing.

What advice would you give to incoming and current students about getting involved in research?

Take initiative. Identify as early as you can what your interests are, even remote interests, and then begin to look for researchers. The EUREKA database is a good tool to locate faculty and their interests. Be persistent in your attempts to join them. The small amount of courage it takes to just ask can make a world of difference and catalyze something really amazing.