Name: Jennifer Le
Hometown: Westminster, CA
Describe your research experience at UCR
I would say my research experience at UCR has been unexpected, but incredible. When I came to UCR, I thought I wanted to go to medical school, but after taking the Dynamic Genome class, I realized how much I loved research. Since working in Dr. Jernej Murn’s research lab, I’ve slowly developed the confidence and skills to be an independent researcher. Modifying and overcoming failed experiments cultivated my tenacity and I’ve learned to be more self-reliant from optimizing these experiments by reading articles in my field. For me, working in a research lab is empowering because I am overcoming challenges with the goal of creating new knowledge.
You recently were awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. As one of the most prestigious and competitive awards in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic fields, or STEM, what does receiving this award mean to you?
For someone who was told growing that being a scientist would be difficult and that there weren’t many women professors, receiving the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship was a significant event in my career that affirmed I was capable of being a researcher. Applying to the Goldwater Scholarship was the most intensive experience I’ve had thus far because I was challenged to think critically about my future goals and why I wanted to be a researcher. It was even difficult to explain why I liked biochemistry. When I finally submitted my application, I gained a better understanding of my ambitions, skills, and how to write a strong research proposal. I think the application process is valuable in and of itself, but receiving the scholarship felt like a testament to my potential as a researcher.
You are also the recipient of the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship for a project seeking to close the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, or STEM. Can you describe your project and what do you hope to accomplish?
I founded Queens of STEAM with the goal of addressing the underrepresentation of women in science. I lead a team of volunteers to mentor high school students every other week in after-school sessions. We aim to foster critical thinking skills by guiding the students to formulate and conduct their own experiments. Every month, we focus on an experiment that was developed with female UCR faculty to showcase their research to the students. My program also provides a community of female mentors that cultivate confidence and leadership skills in the students.
What are your plans after you graduate from UCR?
I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical science to investigate the pathogenesis of diseases at the genetic level. My long-term goal is to secure a faculty position at the university level to conduct independent research and to mentor future generations of researchers, in particular, women in science.
How has your experience as a CNAS student at UCR helped accomplish your goals?
Compared to my previous experiences, I feel that UCR has a strong collaborative environment and genuinely wants to see its students succeed. I have searched and found support from my lab, classmates, and faculty. Having this support was something that encouraged me to overcome my fear of failure and strive to reach my goals. I strongly feel that I would have a harder time replicating my unique support network at any other university. Additionally, UCR has a strong emphasis on recruiting students into research labs early on. My interest in research was piqued by Dynamic Genome, and I was motivated to join a lab one quarter afterwards to apply to the RISE Summer Research Fellowship. If I didn’t have these incentives during my freshman year, it may have taken me longer to find the interest or encouragement to join a research lab.