Preparing for big goals by researching small things

Megan Choi poses for photo in front of Alma Mater.Megan Choi is a junior in LAS, where she studies integrative biology. Originally from Oswego, IL, Choi is also passionate about competing in triathlons. 

In the spring of 2019, Choi won a campus-level award for her undergraduate research on the variation in nest architecture of two different species of ants. The College of LAS recently had a chance to ask her a few questions about her experience with undergraduate research on campus.

Question: How did you initially get involved with undergraduate research on campus?

I initially enrolled in a research-specific class in integrative biology (IB). In this semester class, I was paired with a mentor who worked under an IB professor. In lab, we digitally and physically reconstructed ant nests. We did this to help better document ant nest architecture. I was able to assist my mentor with this throughout the semester, and at the end I asked to continue to work in the lab.

Q: Being named an Undergraduate Research Award winner this past spring is a great accomplishment. Tell us about that experience.

Presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium was a great experience. I have never done anything like this before, so I was very grateful for the opportunity. I was accompanied by my three other lab mates, and we were all trying to give our best presentation rather than thinking of an award at the end. When we all found out we won, we were all very excited that our hard work paid off, especially since we are one of four labs in the nation documenting nest architecture.  

Q: What are your career goals and aspirations? How have your research experiences at the University of Illinois helped you on that journey?

In the future, I would like to attend medical school and become a family medicine physician. Once an established physician, I would ultimately like to work in a free clinic and serve underrepresented populations. My research experience at the University of Illinois helped my journey because I have learned how to manage my time. With clubs, a job, and research, things can get very busy. Research has helped me manage my time better, something I will need when I start studying for the MCAT and applying to medical school.

Q: What support have you received from the LAS community as you’ve pursued your research interests?

My mentor, Kim Drager, is a PhD student in evolution, ecology, and behavior and has been a great person of support. She is always willing to help in the lab if anything is ever confusing, such as when I first started digitally reconstructing ant nests and it was hard to get the hang of it.

Q: After spending close to three years on campus now, what advice would you give to seniors in high school that are considering the University of Illinois?

There are so many resources available at the University of Illinois. Like I said earlier, many people want to help you and give you the resources you need to succeed. Although Illinois initially was not my first choice, I am very happy that I attended because I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.

Blog Source

Megan Choi, Paul Elliott