Tell us a little about yourself and your research project.
I moved to the United States in 2015 from Albania, a small country in Eastern Europe, and have lived in Charlotte ever since. I have had the honor to conduct research under the supervision of Dr. Eugenia Lo (Principal Investigator) and Kareen Pestana (Doctoral Student). The research project is focuses on Plasmodium vivax, which is the most widespread human Malaria parasite and is particularly resilient to current elimination efforts. Our project investigates the expression and function of erythrocyte binding genes in Plasmodium vivax, determining the extent of PvDBP , EBP and RBP2B copy number variation in Duffy-positive and Duffy-negative P. vivax infections from Ethiopia, as well as the antibody response of individuals to Plasmodium vivax antigens. Knowledge of P. vivax invasion mechanisms and host immune responses will have important implications for P. vivax vaccine development and vivax malaria risk assessment both within and outside Africa
How did you first find out about undergraduate research opportunities at UNC Charlotte?
I remember hearing about research opportunities during SOAR my Freshman year. After reading about the different projects that our faculty are involved in, I decided to email them expressing my interest in their project and willingness to help.
How has your research experience prepared you for your next goals or career?
My research experience has taught me a lot about commitment and cooperation. Working in a lab is all about cooperation and team work. It is amazing how many science disciplines are interdependent and work in unison. Incorporating a research component along with a sound academic foundation has enabled me to excel in classes too. Research has allowed me to take initiative and be around people who are passionate about the process of inquiry and learning. It has also helped me build relationships with mentors who have guided me throughout my time in undergrad. I plan on pursuing an MD/PHD degree after graduation, and this experience has exposed me to working in a lab and it has re-enforced my love for science and healthcare.
What advice would you give students who are interested in pursuing undergraduate research and what would you say to a student who says, "research is not for me"?
My advice would be to not be afraid to ask to be involved! Undergraduate research not only helps you stand out from your peers, but also is one of the best ways to make friends and mentors. It is a great way to see how the material that you learn in your classes gets applied in real life. To a student who says research is not for me, I would say that I was in your shoes before taking the initiative to become involved, but once I started I fell in love with the process of science. I would say to just give it a go. Even if you decide that research does not resonate with you, you would still learn transferable skills such as time management and professional communication. Research will help you establish a tolerance for obstacles, will teach you to work independently and enforce the idea that assertions require supporting evidence! No matter what path you take in life, all those skills will help you immensely!
What is one thing that you learned about yourself from this research experience?
Research has taught me that I am capable of working independently and willing to tolerate obstacles along the way!