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Shan Yan had a spot open in his lab for an undergraduate student, but the associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences made it clear to Jude Raj ’16 that he was looking for someone who could make a long-term investment—and he expected commitment.

“I spent the next three years in that lab,” said Raj, who joined Yan’s lab as a sophomore at UNC Charlotte. “And you really need to have a long research experience to get the most out of it because a lot of the time it’s failure after failure. You’re doing experiments, you have no idea what to do next sometimes. So in those cases, you need a lot of time to think through that.”

Raj credits his extensive time in Yan’s lab at UNC Charlotte with propelling him to where he is now: a freshman in Duke University’s prestigious Medical Scientist Training Program, which trains students as physician-scientists. Upon his graduation from the eight-year program, Raj will hold both an M.D. and Ph.D. Duke’s program is among 46 such programs that are funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“What I loved about UNC Charlotte was joining Dr. Yan’s lab and doing research right there,” Raj said. “I think the biggest thing was the research experience for me because that opened up doors for me like none other.”

In Yan’s lab, Raj, who majored in biology and mathematics, helped conduct a research project to better understand the molecular mechanism of DNA damage response in oxidative stress. He co-authored a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, with his major finding to be published soon.

In addition, Raj won first place among all biology majors at the 2015 UNC Charlotte Undergraduate Research Conference. Yan described him as an engaged and dedicated lab member.

“Jude is one of our successful role models of undergraduate students at UNC Charlotte,” Yan said. “I am very impressed by his attitude to do research as an undergraduate researcher in my lab.”

Raj said his work inside the lab defined his learning experience at UNC Charlotte. He would sometimes leave class early for the lab, and what he learned there was immediately applicable to the classroom. Raj also worked as a supplemental instruction leader for students enrolled in organic chemistry and calculus II, both classes that Raj says experience high dropout rates.

After graduation in 2016, Raj spent two years as a post-baccalaureate associate in translational research at Yale University, where he worked with human patient samples.

Raj is interested in tumor immunology, or how the immune system can be used to fight cancer. Raj also wants to become a physician because he thinks it’s important to be a good doctor before he can become a good scientist. While at UNC Charlotte, Raj volunteered at Atrium Health’s main and children’s hospitals, where patients shared their philosophies on life with him, and he shared with them the research he was conducting at the University.

“That was very motivating for me,” Raj said. “Although I couldn’t help these patients right now, hopefully, my research sometime in the future will.”