Rei Bufi (she/her/hers) is earning a bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and an Individualized major in Globalization, Art, and Activism with minors in Physiology and Neurobiology, and Human Rights at UConn in 2021. Rei participated in a virtual opportunity as a researcher in the Department of Kinesiology through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Grant.
What were your position responsibilities? Were there any projects or aspects of the job that you had a special interest in?
The main requirement to be awarded the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Grant is to design your own project by creating a proposal, budget, and timeline. My project is a meta-analysis and systematic review on the exercise guidelines for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). After I was given the opportunity to be a SURF Award recipient, I decided on the inclusion/exclusion criteria for my studies, I created the coding form for my included studies, ran the moderator analysis for each of my studies, and drew my conclusions. I had a special interest in moderator analysis. Prior to my project, I had little to no knowledge on how to run moderator analysis, but with the help of my mentors, I find it quite interesting now.
When and how did you secure this opportunity? Do you have any tips for students trying to secure a similar opportunity?
I worked on my proposal and other required documents all through winter break in 2019 and applied early in the Spring 2020 semester. I was awarded the grant in March 2020. I would advise anyone who is interested to read the literature on the topic they are trying to focus on. Writing the project proposal was one of the hardest things I have ever done because I had never written one before. However, having background knowledge on the topic of my research made the process a bit easier – and the guidance of my mentors of course!
Did you have any previous experiences that prepared you for this one?
Yes, I did. I had been part of the same research lab for almost two years by the time I was awarded the grant. I do not think it is a requirement to be part of a lab for a significant amount of time to receive a grant, but it was helpful for me as I was comfortable already working with my two mentors. Additionally, the summer prior to the SURF Award, I had a research internship with Wake Forest Medical School, where I conducted wet lab research on the same condition.
How did this experience impact your decision to pursue a career in this field?
This experience enhanced my understanding of research and academia. I have a major appreciation for all the work researchers put behind their work. It was eye-opening to see how much dedication, devotion, and determination that goes behind every research project. It is these qualities that I want to carry on in my future endeavors.
What’s one important thing you think anyone searching for an opportunity similar to yours should know?
There are tons of research opportunities through UConn or through different schools. Most of them require letters of recommendations from your professors, so I would highly recommend having in mind a few opportunities early on in the academic year, and form connections with professors who are best qualified to write on your behalf for said opportunities.
What advice do you have for individuals starting a virtual experience?
It is normal to feel disconnected from other team members in your project when the opportunity is virtual, which can make asking questions even harder or intimidating. However, I would recommend speaking up, as in my experience, when I spoke up, it led to more meetings with my team members, which made the work run much smoother afterwards.