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Third Annual Natural Sciences Open Research Lab Day Sees Record Turnout!


By Laura Wagner

The Department of Natural Sciences (NS) opened its research lab doors on the first Friday of October to offer future scientists a peek behind the microscope at the third annual NS Open Research Lab Day. Students were invited to visit the labs to give them an idea of the kinds of research opportunities available to them through their degree programs. 

More than 80 students registered to visit one of 17 faculty labs open to tours. Senior students conducted the tours, some of which included a hands-on element to give students the true lab experience. Others offered demonstrations of their research. Labs that were not open to tours provided either a video about the research opportunities offered there or flyers for prospective students to take with them. Natural Sciences Open Research Lab Day 2023

Biology senior Paulina Cano toured Associate Professor of Biology Michael Tobin’s lab. “It was very informative, with plenty of information about his research and techniques, plus the hands-on portion was really enjoyable,” she said. “I highly recommend other students participate in this event. It will give them better insight on labs and allow them to get questions answered by the professors.” She added, “It’s one thing to read about research but it’s another thing to actually go inside a lab and see all the technology and how certain experiments are carried out. It’s a very beneficial event for students looking to participate in research but unsure which lab would best suit them.” 

Biology senior Michael Jimenez shared Cano’s view. “I definitely recommend that other students attend the Open Research Lab Day. It’s really informative about what types of research labs there are on campus—no two are alike. A major benefit is that you’re able to meet most of the professors in a small setting that allows you to ask questions about the lab and get a good close look to see if you may want to be part of their team.”

Natural Sciences Open Research Lab Day 2023At noon, a packed house of more than 50 attendees gathered in the CST lobby to hear from expert panelists. 

Senior Carlina Schubert, a Biology major with a concentration in Environmental Science, opened the panel with helpful tips for students on how to connect with a professor they want to work with, what kinds of information to bring to their first meeting, example questions to ask, the benefits of participating in research, and some general encouragement to students to participate in conferences and presentations that are offered through CST. 

“This event is a great opportunity for students to meet our research professors and participate in hands-on activities related to their labs,” Schubert said.

Alumni panelists included Dr. Evelyn Valdez Ward, a post doc in Science Communications at the University of Rhode Island Metcalf Institute. Ward will serve as an adjunct faculty at UHD while she completes her post doc. Kelly Garcia, currently a graduate student at UHCL, also participated. Three UHD faculty members rounded out the panelists:

Tobin, who led the event this fall, served as moderator, posing a different question to each faculty member:   

  • Sadana provided an an overview of departmental research opportunities and emphasized that research is a two-way investment: Faculty invest time and energy into training students, and students must invest time and energy into the research. Students are expected to work hard, she noted. 
  • Johnson provided a perspective on the Geosciences version of research, which includes a trip to Colorado for two weeks to do field work. Geosciences has a long tradition of learning outside the traditional classroom. Field work allows students to learn techniques such as directly observing rocks and rock materials in the environment, collecting samples, and documenting findings via sketches and comments in a field notebook.
  • Theruvathu described opportunities in chemistry research and noted UHD offers the Welch Foundation Scholarships to qualified NS students.  

Tobin then asked the panel to give students in the audience a feel for the application process, the research process, the time commitment, and post-graduate opportunities. 

  • Garcia shared her pathway to graduate school, which she said required persistence and resilience. She noted she had to gain lab experience to become more qualified so that universities would open their doors for her to enter graduate school.
  • Ward shared her experience of attending a conference for SACNAS (Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science) as an undergraduate where she presented a poster, connecting both times with a faculty member from UC Irvine who noted the improvement in her research over the two conferences. That professor was aware of opportunities UC Irvine offered DACA-status students, and Ward ultimately did her graduate work there. Networking and conferences are so important, Ward told the crowd.

For Tobin and NS Open Research Lab Day founder Yuan Yuan (Connie) Kang, the day was a an unqualified success.connie kang2

“Our goal was to expose the students to their options and try to help them make the best match possible as early in their undergraduate career as possible,” Kang said. “NS Open Research Lab Day achieved that. Students can now make informed decisions about which lab suits their interests.”

Michael TobinTobin agreed. “Participation in this event means there’s a greater likelihood of successful partnership—the matches among students, faculty, and labs are improved, and that improves productivity. Students who are highly motivated are much more likely to do well in the lab.” He reported having quite a few students approach individual faculty about opportunities after the event. “We had a great turnout,” he said. “I’m excited to do it again next year.”



Photo credit: Sadana, Kang

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.