KSU Lab Rats: Undergraduate students learn about graduate-level research and the professional field


Shane Flanigan

Ben Shekhtman, junior biology pre-med major, stains and mounts brain sections to look for fos proteins on Friday, April 26 inside Cunningham Hall. Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Emily Komorowski

Jessica Mulvany, freshman psychology major

For just a couple of hours a week, Jessica Mulvany, freshman psychology major, said she spends time out of class taking care of rats and mice in Aaron Jasnow’s lab in the Psychology Department as part of her undergraduate research experiment.

Every time she starts a research shift, she said she puts on the stereotypical white lab coat before handling rats and mice in Jasnow’s lab.

“The mice are worse than the rats [because] they like to bite,” she said. “Rats are much gentler; you just hold them and pet them. As long as you don’t do anything to provoke them, they’re nice.”

Mulvany said she opens one of the cages on the shelves in the lab, pulls out a black male rat, holds it for five minutes and puts it back. She takes out another rat, holds it for five minutes and puts it back.

“It’s all about getting the rats used to dealing with people before they’re tested on,” Mulvany said.

As Mulvany takes care of the rats and mice, she watches other people walk in and out of the lab, taking care of other jobs such as cleaning the rat cages. Mulvany said undergraduate research isn’t limited to handling rats.

“I have a friend who works in a chemistry lab [for undergraduate research], and it’s very different from what I do,” she said. “But the similar thing across the board for all undergraduate researchers is that they are in a laboratory and we’re all trying to eliminate variables, keeping things the same across the board. For me, that [means] making sure every rat is handled the same.”

Undergraduate research allows students to work with a faculty member to complete investigations, experiments or fieldwork in a specific subject.

Soumitra Basu, associate professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department, said he accepts five students each year for undergraduate research.

He said he has had 35 total student research assistants in seven years and accepts sophomores and above. Basu said his students are in the lab 15 to 20 hours a week.

“Students in undergraduate research present their work every week and learn lab techniques,” Basu said. “They are eventually able to do the work on their own after a year.”

Undergraduate research positions are either paid or available as volunteer opportunities or internships for students. Basu said the main thing students learn at the undergraduate research opportunities is problem solving. He said most students who have gotten involved in it have done “very well” in his experience.

Mulvany said she thought it was easy to find research opportunities at Kent State.

“I emailed professors, set up meetings and observed in labs,” Mulvany said. “Anyone can do it. You just need to be passionate about it.”

The following are two other students’ experiences with working in the labs as undergraduates at Kent State.

Mary Waddington, freshman chemistry major

Waddington said she is currently completing undergraduate research in the Brasch lab in Williams Hall with Nicola Brasch, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The Brasch lab currently consists of three undergraduate students, including Waddington, and five graduate students

“I contacted Dr. Brasch, and she said she would let me know when something was available in the lab,” Waddington said. “In November, she told me they were starting a new project and that’s when I started my work.”

Waddington said she is researching kinetic and mechanistic efforts on HNO [nitroxyl] when reacted with relevant biological species.

Waddinigton said she’s in the lab an average of 10 hours per week, and the research opportunity has helped her learn time management. She said students interested in undergraduate research should talk to professors to see if any opportunities are available.

“If they don’t need help, they can find another professor who does,” Waddington said. “Research is a great way to apply what you learn in class and decide if the field you’re in is a good fit.”

Ben Shekhtman, junior biology major

Shekhtman said he is researching sex differences in mice in a neurology lab with Eric Mintz, director of the School of Biomedical Science.

Shekhtman said he is in the lab about six hours each week as a part of an individual investigation. He said he discovered the opportunity by looking at a list of professors who offer research opportunities and started contacting them.

“Always plan for mistakes,” Shekhtman said. “Scientific research is not a straightforward process.”

Shekhtman said he encourages undergraduates without work experience to try a research experience.

“If you don’t do research as an undergrad, when will you do it?” Shekhtman said. “It’s a great way to prepare for graduate level research.”

Contact Emily Komorowski at [email protected].