BIT SURE Mentor Profiles

Meet the mentors for the 2021 BIT SURE program! All of our mentors are passionate teachers and mentors who are excited to help students succeed in research. Below is a list of questions that we hope will help you get to know the mentors and give you a better idea of what to expect, should you participate in our program.

Dr. Carlos C. Goller

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

I love learning about the potential of the microbes that are around us. We use high-throughput approaches including sequencing and screening to uncover useful strains and genetic sequences in some of the understudied microbes we share our living spaces with… I believe in co-creating and sharing knowledge, and science communication and OPEN data/FAIR principles are integral to this.

What do you like most about research?

I like learning new things from students. I enjoy learning new platforms and tools to analyze the genomes and communities of microbes we often overlook.

How would you describe your mentoring style?

Over the years, I have learned that my mentoring style is based on a mutual agreement and expectation that it is your project. I will not ‘provide’ a research experience because then I am only asking you to do work without your intellectual investment. I want both of us to work together to determine what questions you have that we can attempt to answer and learn from in a reasonable time frame. The goal is to empower you to use teamwork, self-directed learning, and the many resources we are fortunate to have at NCSU to discover something that baffles you!

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

Failure is an opportunity to learn how to improve. Forgetting is a chance to work harder to retrieve and search for new knowledge and connections. Research, at least in my experience, is not a linear process: it is a continuous cycle of learning from others and returning to previous questions to expand on what we can find and learn. Enter the research cycle and be prepared to learn about what you never previously considered!

Dr. Stefanie Chen

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

I have always loved DNA! It looks super cool and it is so fundamental to cellular function. My research explores ways that cells preserve genome integrity, meaning preventing and fixing any damage that inevitably occurs to the DNA.

What do you like most about research?

Learning something new! When you run an experiment and get good results, you know something that no one else in the world knows! And then you get to share with other people who geek out over the same things.

How would you describe your mentoring style?

I would describe my mentoring style as “Try it first.” I’m happy to explain concepts, show students where everything is located, and demonstrate as needed, but I like to have them make a solid effort to find the appropriate information or lab reagents first. This helps them build independent research skills.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

I would definitely say to embrace failure! Experiments rarely go smoothly the first time, so it’s important to make sure you’re learning from and building off of that to improve. Also, take really good notes!

Dr. Carly Sjogren, AKA Dr. S

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

I am a plant geneticist. I am passionate about securing global food security, and I enjoy plant genetics as an avenue to find solutions to increase crop yields.

What do you like most about research?

I like the jazz of pursuing a research question; you think you’re onto something and then you make a mistake or you don’t get the outcome you expected. So then you have to improvise to find a new direction and that can lead to discovering surprising new answers. That’s what makes it exciting!

How would you describe your mentoring style?

I have an athletic background (XC and track) and I like to think of my students as part of my team. We are teammates. I expect my teammates to set goals and work hard to pursue them, and so will I! I provide a lot of structure, support and encouragement throughout a mentored research experience. And by working hard together, we create a space that elevates our potential to grow and succeed.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

Get started and try something! I have talked with a lot of undergraduate researchers who are interested in doing research, but aren’t sure what topic or question they are interested in. I tell them to try something: If they like it, great! If they don’t like it, great- they just learned something new about themselves!

Dr. Jacob Dums

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

I work on genetic engineering of algae and bacteria viruses and their hosts in order to probe virus host interactions and viral phenotypes. I am passionate about this research because viruses are the most numerous biological entity on the planet and yet we have so few viruses that we can genetically manipulate for study. I aim to develop molecular tools so that we can probe the mysteries of how these little puppetmasters manipulate their hosts and the environment around them.

What do you like most about research?

I like the inspiration that comes with doing research. There is always a next set of questions that spin out of your data or circumstances, and I really enjoy seeing the possibilities unraveling before me.

How would you describe your mentoring style?

I like to work closely with my mentees. I will often start them working side by side with me and as they become confident in their skills I give them more distance to start splitting off into an independent project. My goal is always to help my mentee become an independent researcher, but just because the researcher is independent doesn’t mean there is no contact between mentor and mentee.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid that people will judge you for not knowing something. We are all in the business of answering questions so we expect that those who are new to research will have a lot of questions.

Dr. Melissa Srougi

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

Cancer biology, experimental chemotherapeutics, pharmacology. I love deciphering the biochemistry of the human body and using that knowledge not only to understand what causes disease but also to improve human health.

What do you like most about research?

Every day in the lab brings something new. It might be an exciting new finding or a challenge that needs to be overcome. I enjoy the adventure and mental stimulation that working in the lab brings and sharing that journey (ups and downs) with my trainees.

How would you describe your mentoring style?

By default I am a hands-off mentor. I want to enable my students to pursue independent or semi-independent research by the end of their tenure in my lab. However, I understand that all my students bring their own unique personalities and perspectives to the lab. I therefore maintain a very open communication policy with my trainees so we can work together to modify a mentoring plan that is best for each of them. We revisit this plan frequently since trainees’ needs change as they progress in their lab experiences.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

Don’t be afraid to take risks or tackle challenges. Science is an iterative process and much of what we do in the lab does not work (even for the most seasoned scientists). Keep trying and don’t give up!

Dr. Andrew Hasley

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

Environmental DNA (eDNA), genomics, bioinformatics- I’m passionate about this area of research for several reasons. First, I like research questions that look at multiple scales. For example, from cells to communities and ecosystems. Second, using eDNA is still pretty new and we’re still learning what we can and cannot do with it. Often in my life, I look out into places like forests, lakes, fields, and oceans, and just wonder, “What lives there?” and as I’ve grown as a biologist, I’ve started to also wonder things like, “How do the things that live there interact at the level of selection on their genes? What biological functions are going on in this community? How much diversity is there? What organisms or functions are important for this community/ecosystem to be healthy vs. stressed?” Environmental DNA and the molecular and computational tools for analyzing it, are making it possible to start chipping away at questions like these in new ways. I enjoy thinking about how the environment affects genes and how genes impact the environment. What better way to study that than to sequence the environment’s genome, at least metaphorically?

What do you like most about research?

I genuinely enjoy learning new things. Scientific research is the best way I’ve found to do that. My favorite thing about research is figuring out what question to ask. My second favorite part is working with other people to find the answer. For me, research is most fun when you’re interacting with people who all bring different backgrounds and expertise to answering the question. Everyone learns new things in collaborative research.

How would you describe your mentoring style?

Approachable, respectful, and engaged. These are qualities I try to focus on in mentoring. It’s important to me that people I mentor feel like they can come to me with questions, make honest mistakes, and not feel like their constantly being assessed. I respect those I mentor as collaborators. I have a responsibility to guide them through research but we are working together toward common goals we agree on. I also respect their time and personal well being and try to be flexible and empathetic. Finally, I don’ take a passive approach, waiting for people to come to me with questions and problems. I make sure I’m reaching out and engaging with them and taking an active role in guiding them through the research process. Importantly though, I don’t micromanage or completely takeover when challenges arise, which goes back to being respectful.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

People matter more than projects. It’s true that you won’t have a good research experience if you find the research topic/question boring. However, even the most interesting project you could imagine can’t make up for poor working relationships. When looking for mentors or collaborators, look for people who share your values and goals for your research experience, rather than just choosing the coolest or most prestigious lab or project. Mentors and collaborators don’t need to be your best friends but they do need to be people you can comfortably work with to overcome challenges that inevitably arise.

Dr. Arnab Sengupta

What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?

I am interested in RNA molecules and macromolecules. In particular I am interested in the process by which the genetic code contained in messenger RNA (mRNA) is translated to inform the assembly of protein molecules. RNAs play multiple critical roles and functions in the process of translation. Unlike DNA, their nucleotide cousins, RNA can fold into a variety discrete of structural conformations. The structures of RNA determine their function, either as catalysts (ribosome) or regulatory elements. To solve these structural puzzles, I use chemical probing, next-generation sequencing and high-performance computing to build structural models of functionally interesting RNA. Some of the applications that I am interested in include antibiotic resistance in bacteria and deregulated translation in certain human cancer genes.

What do you like most about research?

RNA structures are highly diverse and often undergo major alterations depending on cellular stimuli such as stress. In large RNA macromolecules such as the ribosome, while the RNA backbone (secondary) structure is stable, there are major technical movements in three-dimensional space. This dynamic nature of the RNA is what I find most intriguing.

How would you describe your mentoring style?

As a mentor for undergraduate researchers, I am aware that many of you are still discovering your areas of scientific interest. My primary role is to provide a framework for you to implement the scientific method. Beyond that, I want to understand your goals from this research experience, and guide you towards achieving the next milestone in your career.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to students beginning research?

Research is a collaborative and increasingly interdisciplinary field. Open your mind towards new directions and areas that are outside of your comfort-zone. This will likely be a crucial skill set as your navigate through your research journey.