Explore interests, gain skills with undergraduate research opportunities

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been revolutionizing and breaking ground on new research since 1867. Illinois is one of the top public research institutions in the world because of its innovative practices. Undergraduate Research has specifically allowed students to tap into their curiosities about the world and allowed them to explore new career directions. Participating in research helps build skills that you can use in many different aspects of your life. Students also get to contribute knowledge to the world around them, while making a huge impact. COVID-19 has not stopped the research on this campus from happening, the University of Illinois prides itself on research, so many of the guidelines put in place have allowed for research to continue. 

Fahren Zackery is a senior majoring in integrative biology. Fahren is participating in UG research with professor Brian Allan and exploring the question of “Does the dilution effect operate in the human microbiome?” To explain what this meant, Fahren said that “the field of ecology has demonstrated in nature a phenomenon referred to as a ‘dilution effect’ whereby higher species diversity leads to lower prevalence of an infectious disease. This study evaluates whether microbiome diversity has a positive, negative, or neutral relationship to the health outcome of individuals based on each study considered from a literature review.”

When first getting involved in research, she had no idea what exactly it entailed. Professor Ken Paige was the first person to introduce Fahren to research in an integrative biology course. COVID-19 has not impacted the research that she is involved in, thankfully it can all be done remotely. 

Participating in research has helped Fahren realize that innovative ideas and becoming more creative is something that she wants to do for the rest of her life. It has given her the opportunity to explore many questions and learn as she maneuvers through the various projects. Getting familiar with more software like Geomagic, RStudio, ImageJ and others has helped strengthen her statistical skills. Engaging in research helps foster analytical and critical thinking skills. This hands-on learning expands one's knowledge of things outside of the classroom. Not to mention you also get to network with some very distinguished guests. 

When asking Fahren if she would recommend other students become involved in UG research, she said she most certainly would. It can help you clarify your choice of degree, explore career interests, and define your post-graduate plans. You can gain skills like written and oral communication and technical and information literacy. 

If you would like more information on how to get involved in UG research at Illinois, visit the Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research webpage and ask your professors and other faculty and staff members. Many of your professors are the leads for this research, so it's important to build connections with your peers and professors while in class.

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Amber Redmond