Randi Pechacek stands in the redwood grove.

Jumping Into Research: a CURE for First-Year Students

Randi Pechacek ‘19

Biological Sciences

Taking a First-Year Seminar turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I got to jump into research, learn new skills, and earn a spot in the Eisen lab. My projects there allow me to work alongside graduate students and ask questions about what graduate school is like. I have become passionate about research and will continue to pursue it. 

A Jump Into Research

In spring quarter of her first-year at UC Davis, Biological Sciences major Randi Pechacek received an e-mail invitation to take a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience offered by the First-Year Seminars program, or FYS-CURE. The offer “sounded like a jump into research,which was ultimately what I wanted to do.” The class consisted of lab work that went beyond simply learning protocols and provided valuable work experience. She debated whether to add the class to an already challenging course load, but decided to fit the two-unit seminar into her schedule.

It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

Pechacek participated in a FYS-CURE built around an abalone study under Ashley Vater, a postdoctoral student who co-developed the CUREs offerings within the First-Year Seminars program with director Dave Furlow, Professor of Neurology, Physiology, and Behavior, and associate director Eddy Ruiz. Building on her prior lab work at her community college, Randi says was able to learn new techniques while connecting with her peers as they developed their skill sets and confidence together. She found the computer-based big data analyses particularly challenging at first, but in the end she "loved learning the skill of bioinformatics."

Meeting her Mentors

Equally important, the seminar introduced her to mentors, Professor Jonathan Eisen and postdocs David Coiland Ashley Vater, who co-instructed the class. Through the FYS-CURE, Randi earned a space in the Eisen lab, where she has continued to work. She has directly contributed to research on the koala microbiome and a fungal disease that’s devastating frog populations. These projects allowed her to work alongside graduate students and ask questions about what graduate school is like. She has become passionate about research through her experiences at UC Davis and will continue to pursue it by means of a PhD or MD.

Transfer students interested in faculty-mentored research when they arrive at UC Davis face a compressed timeline to get involved. They need to find a Principal Investigator (PI) willing bring them into the lab and provide mentorship. FYS-CUREs address this challenge for incoming freshmen and transfer students by easing the path to early participation in authentic, discovery-based research experiences. Like all first-year seminars, they enroll a maximum of 19 students; in the CURE seminars students participate in emerging research of high significance to the scientific community, unlike most introductory lab courses in their majors. And as 1-2 units courses, they are relatively easy to fit into a student’s already challenging schedule. That’s what persuaded Pechacek to take the leap despite her concerns about how much time her chemistry and physics courses would require.

FYS-CURE offerings now average about five each quarter,with a goal to double these unique opportunities in the near future. Students can register for FYS-CUREs during their pass times, with priority going to students in their first year at UC Davis.

 Hear more from Randi Pechacek about her FYS CURES experience: