Forty BUILD PODER Students Return from Summer Research Programs at Leading U.S. Research Institutions

September 12, 2017

For undergraduate college students pursuing research careers, emerging as a competitive candidate for top-tier graduate programs upon graduating is no easy task. Maintaining a high grade point average, taking all the right courses, working with on-campus faculty researchers in their labs and getting a good score on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are all pieces of the complex puzzle of applying to graduate school.

BUILD PODER makes putting together those pieces a less overwhelming project by helping students navigate institutional barriers, bringing all sorts of opportunities their way. And one such opportunity is to do research at a research institution away from home.

This summer, forty BUILD PODER students attended summer research programs at top universities across the country, gaining experience doing cutting-edge research with world-class researchers, learning independence, exploring outside of their comfort zones and developing both personally and professionally.

“Going away to summer research is very beneficial to students’ research endeavors,” said CSUN psychology professor Gabriela Chavira, who is one of the principal investigators of BUILD PODER. “Being away will help students to realize they've learned a lot during the school year and it gives them the opportunity to be independent. Participating in summer research programs increases their chances of getting into a Ph.D. program at the university they spend their summer.”

Students did their research as close by as University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California Northwestern University, and as far away as University of Michigan, Columbia University, Purdue University, University of Florida and Syracuse University. Highlighted are some of those students, who shared how they came back home more inspired, empowered, and self-assured.




Cache smiles at camera with research poster

Cache Robinson
Summer Research Site: University of California, Irvine
Research topic
My project focused on the yeast SCFMet30 complex, which is involved in metabolic stress and cell cycle regulation. During the summer I studied the F-Box protein Met30 and its cadmium induced dissociation from the core ligase, leading to its inactivation. I worked with specific internal deletion mutants of Met30 to identify were cadmium is recognized within the F-Box protein. The research I did over the summer is important to better understand SCF ligase regulation to support prospect therapeutic targeting.
About my experience
I learned that it is ok to do things outside of your comfort zone so that you better understand yourself and the world around you.



Chiemelie smiles at camera while presenting her research posterChiemelie Onyekonwu
Summer Research Site: University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine
Research Topic
Brain metastasis (BM) occurs in 10-30% of adult cancers and is associated with dismal outcomes. Our lab has recently generated a series of patient-derived xenografts (PDX) and patient-derived cell lines (PDC) from patients with breast or lung cancer BM. Specifically, we will focus this abstract on the development of PDC from BM. Of 5 PDCs generated, one PDC linenCM04 was molecularly similar to its parent tumor and was tumorigenic in mice. The other 4 PDCs resembled cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and were non-tumorigenic in mice. Our lab has recently shown that the combination of the tumorigenic CM04 PDC with one of the CAF non-tumorigenic PDCs (CM08) led to tumor growth inhibition in vivo. The purpose of this study was to determine if CAF derived exosomes from CM08 cells were contributing to the inhibition of tumor growth in vivo.



Christian expresses his enthusiasm by jumping for joy in his summer research labChristian Sotelo
Summer Research Site: Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
Research topic
I worked alongside Dr. Ben Akih-Kumgeh and multiple Ph.D. students to carry out fundamental experiments aimed at characterizing the ignition properties of alternative and conventional fuels. The overall goal of my project is to optimize the production of syngas from liquid gas. My contributions to this project have been assisting with thermodynamic analysis on the ignition properties of alternative and conventional fuels during pyrolysis, preparing stoichiometric mixtures of n-heptane using argon and oxygen, monitoring shock tube experiment identifying potential leaks in system, calibrating HeNe QCL system to capture optimum CO levels in experiment, troubleshooting data acquisition systems while gathering experimental data and presenting weekly on compressible flow theory, laser absorption spectroscopy, CO detection methods. These experiments will aid in the design of advanced combustion systems such as internal combustion engines, gas turbines and process burners.
About my experience
I learned how to coexist with many of different cultures. At many times it felt like I was the only Hispanic on campus, something I am not very accustomed to considering CSUN is a Hispanic serving institution. I met a group of friends who I never would have thought I’d be around, and I put away my subconscious bias and accepted people for who they are. This completely changed my perspective, and whole summer experience for the better. A big challenge was acclimating to the lifestyle. Syracuse, New York is very relaxed and extremely quiet in the summer while NYC and Toronto are extremely fast paced metropolitan areas. I overcame this issue by making friends with locals from the area, as well as attending local food/music events. I got a chance to travel to New York City and Toronto on the weekends and it was a lot of fun.
Professionally, I gained connections with everyone I met in New York. Many of the friends I made outside of the program are located around the United States, so if I ever find myself traveling I can always link up with them. I also learned that it is not so bad traveling across the country, the people you meet along the way are the best part of the adventure.



Two photo collage with Christina posing in front of UCSB sign and performing research in labCristina Alarcon
Summer Research Site: University of California, Santa Barbara
Research topic
In my summer lab I worked closely with the graduate student name Melina, we analyzed the perceived benefits and costs of being a first generation graduate student mentor. Through a qualitative analysis we identified issues that the graduate students experienced in their efforts to be effective mentors as well as how the mentor-mentee relationship impacted their professional and personal development. In this study, six first-generation Latino/a graduate students were interviewed about their experiences acting as mentors to first-generation Latina/o undergraduate students in a structured mentorship program at University of California, Santa Barbara. PI was Dr. Laura Romo.
About my experience:
I enjoyed my time there. It was a beautiful campus. It was nice to see within walking distance there was the beach. The part that was difficult was knowing that I couldn't reach my family members, no one was just 20 minutes away. I learned that I worked well with deadlines and I work well with given directions, I can work diligently without asking too many questions. I also learned that I am a good researcher. I was given an opportunity to prove myself and I really did step up to the plate. I was very proud of my work. We submitted our proposal to a conference, AERA (Annual Meeting - American Educational Research Association), and we'll hear back november 2nd. I feel my career was impacted, I learned about applying to fellowships and finding funding. Going away to research, comparing the atmosphere at CSUN, it's different at other R1 schools, they have so many open positions for undergrads to do research. There's so much to learn, if you feel you know it all, you really don't.



Crystal Venegas
Summer Research Site: UCLA
Research Topic 
My main focus at UCLA and my ongoing research interest is how mental health perceptions influence help-seeking behaviors with the intent to decrease mental health misconceptions as well as increase awareness of mental health services and resources available in one’s own community. My research project aimed at identifying predictive factors that put rural Latino youth at risk for developing stigmatizing attitudes of mental health illnesses. Literature suggests that Latinos are at an increased risk for developing mental health illnesses and are less likely to seek mental health services. Therefore, I wanted to analyze demographic information, cultural factors such as discrimination and familism, and clinical factors, that help shape the stigma surrounding mental health. I also helped in a study aimed at increasing mental health literacy in Latino parents who have children who endorse levels of anxiety and depression.



ID badge for Cynthia at UNMCCynthia Nava
Summer Research Site: University of Nebraska Medical Center
Research topic: Our research focused on children with autism's ability to make auditory discriminations. Studies ranged from simple discriminations, like learning to pair an audio recording of a siren with the physical act of patting their lap, to complex ones involving correctly responding to different "wh" questions such as "why" and "when." Since auditory discrimination issues are common among children with autism, the study tested different interventions, such as adding a differential reinforcer to ensure the child was attending to the proper auditory stimulus.
About my Experience:
I would absolutely recommend leaving for a research program to another student. The facility I worked at was like nothing I had ever seen and had a few divisions that taught me just how many options I had in the field of behavior analysis. This experience allowed me to get a taste of each one, but I chose to focus my time there on the field of early intervention. Being so immersed in research was extremely enjoyable and renewed my excitement to follow the path to the PhD. Coming from a large and tight knit family, I wasn't sure how I'd manage living on my own. I ended up surprised at how quickly I adjusted to being on my own and actually enjoyed being so independent. This experience tested my limits and taught me how much I can accomplish when working in a field I love.



Daisy walks on Northwestern University campus lawnDaisy Gonzalez
Summer Research Site: Northwestern University
Research topic
Motor speech changes are a defining feature of many neurodegenerative disorders with dementia. Yet, little is known about how damage to the subcortical white matter associated with vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) affects motor speech. The aim of our study was to characterize the baseline and progression of change in acoustic motor speech features of individuals with VCI. Our results showed a large heterogeneity in participant performance across tasks and time periods.
About my Experience:
My summer was full of laughs, homesickness, joy, stress, adventures, and deadlines, but above all it was a very fulfilling and enriching time at Northwestern University.



Photo collage of Esteban's time at Purdue UniversityEsteban Bautista
Summer Research Site: Purdue University
Research topic
Current nuclear reactor components consist of forged or casted Iron-based or Nickel-based alloys. Both these fabrication techniques present challenges in long-term performance and structural integrity. A possible alternative investigated in this research includes Powder Metallurgy (PM) combined with Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP). Our group focused on how both fabrication techniques resulted in changes for hardness and grain structure growth after samples were heat treated at 400 oC, 600 oC, and 800oC for 100, 1000, and 10000 hours.  
About my Experience:
I had a great time this summer. It was my first time in the Midwest, being away from Los Angeles, and interning at a major research institution. I learned that I do not like humidity. Indiana was way too humid and rural for my liking, but I am very interested in attending Purdue for my doctorate program. I had major assignments and deadlines, and I learned that I can compete with some of the brightest minds from across the country. I was pooled with individuals from Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, and Florida University, just to name a few. Conducting research at a major research institution like Purdue, I gained a new confidence in my abilities that will carry on into my time at CSUN. Everything about Indiana was new. The change of pace and culture was very enlightening, especially since I was situated in middle of rural America. Time moves a lot slower out there and there are very few distractions. Purdue University is great for any person that wants to get some serious work done. It was also eye opening to see how hard graduate students work and how knowledgeable they are. You can ask them anything! It was very inspiring and I now envision myself in a position very similar to theirs. Challenges I had included getting situated at Purdue, getting around town, and trying to not get frustrated with my metallographic polishes. It’s always hard for me to get accustomed to a new environment especially when you don’t know a single person and your thousands of miles from home. The most frustrating part of my research was trying to get the delicate polishes I needed done. Sometimes you would have a deadline and then you suddenly find yourself in the lab from 9 .m. to 9 p.m. Polishing is an art and it wasn’t until the sixth week of my eight-week internship that I became an expert at it.



Federico looks calmly at camera while posing with U.S Army Base sign at Fort DetrickFederico Prokopczuk
Summer Research Site: National Cancer Institute on Fort Detrick
Research topic
This summer I was at the National Cancer Institute in Fort Detrick, through the NIH. I worked under Dr. Xintian Li learning new DNA recombination techniques. We used  these techniques to develop strains of E coli that can express antimicrobial peptides internally, with the hopes of better understanding the peptides killing mechanism. We were basically making bacteria that will produce its own antibiotics and to see what happens.
About my experience
The first couple days were a bit jarring because the people, atmosphere and culture are very different than what I’m used to. On the side of their freeways there was grass, forests surrounding these houses, quiet areas. Even DC is very green and it’s not uncommon for whoever is serving you food or coffee to talk to you about your my day is going and make conversation. I worked on a military base and it was kind of crazy because everyday I had to go through a checkpoint to get in. The first couple days I was riding my bicycle with my helmet with my pass, and I’m sure they thought, “Who is this kid and how did he get in here?” It was very intimidating.
The research center was so multicultural! I shared a lab with people from all over the place--doctoral researchers from Japan, post-docs, from Turkey, Italy, Korea and South Africa--and it was wild because you had the brightest minds from different corners of the globe come together to solve the world’s problems. I was there among the giants in the field and I was trying not to sound stupid because I wanted to impress them and get their respect. It’s funny because my mentor was telling me to review some of his papers. He’s been published in Nature, one of the top journals in science, and he was just casually handing it off to me. And I learned a lot from being trusted as a researcher-in-training. I was given the liberty to come up with my own experiments and research questions, and the experience of thinking for myself instead of being told what to do and having access to all these materials was so exciting. You learn that if you want to be a scientist and you are in a place there isn’t anything holding you back, the ultimate limit is actually yourself. In science you need to kind of be ready to push yourself to the ends of creativity and imagination, be able to ask for help, talk to people and admit when you don’t know what to do, and collaborate with great minds. It’s an organic situation where anything can happen, and if everyone uses their own creativity and ingenuity to the fullest, you can see exciting new research happening right in front of you.



Gladys focuses at desk as she writes out paperworkGladys Hernandez
Summer Research Site: Arizona State University
Research topic
I worked with two different Doctors of Social Work. On one project I worked with was about Latina mothers who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I also worked with immigrant families who have been detained in the detention centers in Arizona and how it affected their mental health.
About my Experience:
I had so much fun at ASU. The school of social work is in the Downtown Phoenix campus, so there were a lot of different activities to do. I definitely learned how to be more independent and got to experience what it's like to live away from home and how to manage when I felt homesick. Usually when I felt homesick I'd call my mom or ask her to send me a picture of my dog. I gained a lot of new professional assets. I got to meet and network with other ASU professors and professors from other universities such as the University of Oregon. I got to be a part of my first board meeting. Personally, I gained confidence. I was doubting my abilities to complete a PhD, but after working with my mentors and meeting PhD students, it is something I know I can do. I am publishing my first paper in a few weeks actually. I highly recommend that other students go away for summer research.



Jacqueline poses with flowers outside the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate StudiesJaqueline Dighero
Summer Research Site: University of Michigan
Research Topic: I looked at whether Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies increased community engagement. I conducted 3×3 ANOVA's where I looked at different neighborhood hotspots for crime over the course of three years. I looked for main effects in hotspot and year, as well as any interactions between the two.
About my Experience:
My summer research experience was a mixed bag. I learned that I thrive better in ethnically diverse environments. That was something I really struggled with while I was at Michigan. What helped me was venting and identifying with others who were struggling with the same issue. I enjoyed my summer research program because I gained insight to what is really important to me and for the first time, I experienced working in a big research center. This helped me learn how to collaborate with various people, and manage various projects at once. I would definitely recommend BUILD PODER students to go away for a research program because students get this great opportunity to meet new people and to see if the school is truly a good fit. You cannot really know whether a school or area is a good fit unless you try it out."



Jordy Penagos
Summer Research Site: University California, San Francisco
Research topic
The impact of graphic warning labels on tobacco cigarette packages on different races/ethnicities in substance use disorder treatment programs across the United States.


Kevin casts a s carefree smile while presenting his researchKevin Pinto
Summer Research Site: Washington University in St. Louis
Research topic
My research looked at the involvement of the stress hormone receptor, mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), in adipogenesis. To test MR involvement I transfected MEFs with MR shRNA that knocks down expression levels of MR. I then tested for MR expression during adipocyte differentiation by RT-PCR and Western Blot analysis.        
About my Experience:
Personally, I gained so much from this experience. Living away from home for the first time was a frightening experience, but I have to say I loved every minute of it. I became close friends with the people I met there in such a short period of time and I'm looking forward to seeing them again. Professionally, I learned that research is no joke. I learned that the people in the lab and my relationship with them is important to me. I also learned that the road to higher education is not a straight path. It has divots and divides, and everyone gets there their own way. This experience has made me take a long hard look at my career path. If I could sum it up to another student, I say to them, "Challenge yourself, put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Life is all about growth, the minute you stop growing, you stop learning."



Lessley Torres
Summer Research Site: UC Irvine
Research topic
Our lab focused on systematically monitoring pain and symptoms in children and adolescent cancer patients going through a home-based, outpatient treatment plan. Levels of pain and symptoms were recorded using a 3-D avatar application available on a smart tablet to log in daily diaries for a two month period. The study consisted of two different groups that had access to the application Pain Buddy. The experimental group had access to the diary, cognitive behavioral skills and remote real-time monitoring of symptoms to supplement pain relief and the attention control only had access to the diary portion. Data collection is still in progress yet preliminary results yield that patients who were in the experimental condition reported less clinically significant pain compared to the attention control perhaps attributed to the remote monitoring, skills enabled within the program that overall supports Pain Buddy's efficacy.
About my Experience:
This program changed the trajectory of my future. I learned how to align my interests and passions with a current social issue that needs change. Although you aren't doing your own research, you learn how to extract the skills and standards of that project and apply them to the research YOU want to do. It is a lot of work, but you end the summer inspired and confident in your abilities to do research.  



Lewis smiles in a selfie at the UNT Health Center LabLewis Marquez
Summer Research Site: University of North Texas
Research topic
I participated in a summer research program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) where I was able to conduct research with Dr. Krishnamoorthy and Dr. Stankowska in the field of ophthalmology. Our research explores different treatments (e.g., Endonthelin-1,ɑβ-crystallin core peptide) to prevent the neurodegenerative hallmarks of glaucoma by utilizing Morrison’s model of glaucoma in rats. My project focused on understanding the mechanisms that lead to optic nerve degeneration.
About my Experience:
This summer program gave me the experience needed to establish my abilities to succeed in a graduate program.



Ohannes smiles next to the NASA Jet Propulsion Labratory sign at the California Institute of Technology campusOhannes Guerbidjian
Summer Research Site: Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California
Research topic
My research project took place at the Jet Propulsion Lab this summer. I worked for the Biotechnology & Planetary Protection Department. My main goal was to determine an effective approach for the Dry Heat Microbial Reduction process for Embedded Microbes that would be found inside of spacecraft parts planned to venture off to new planets such as Mars and Europa.
About my Experience: My summer experience was a blast! I learned that the only thing stopping me from working late nights was my drive for finishing the project. Even though I did not go too far for the summer, it felt like I was away. Go away for the summer and experience something new!



Photo collage of Paulo's time at Northwestern UniversityPaulo Sitagata
Summer Research Site: Northwestern University
With my mentor, Dr. Jun Yao, associate professor at Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Department, I tested people post-stroke on their balance using a balance machine (Neurocom Smart Balance Manager), which is a dynamic posturography system and a long-force plate (measuring amount of force you put on it, where you are stepping, where you are putting pressure, where your center of gravity is at). We tested muscular strength using Biodex Dynamometer, a strength measuring device.
About my experience
It was a huge challenge that I learned a lot from. I was doing a biomedical engineering project and coming from kinesiology exercise science background, I was not familiar with a lot of technical terms and procedures. Everyday I was learning something new, trying to force myself to be able to excel at it. It was a big learning curve. I also had a lot more independence on this project. For the 3D scanner, I had to teach myself how to use it instead of having an grad student teach me in a research lab at CSUN. At Northwestern I had some loose guidelines to help accomplish the project and I had to figure it out on my own. It was challenging, but I loved it, because that’s what research is. If I’m gonna be a Ph.D, I have to be able to work with independence, and training so early has given me a good look at what a graduate program would look like for the research I want to pursue.
It was an amazing experience in many ways, outside of just the research--I grew a lot just as a person and had a lot of fun. On the weekends after you’ve done all your research for the week, you get to explore, have fun, and make new friends. I was in a cohort of 40 and I met a ton of new people from all over the United States with different backgrounds. We got into conversations about what it’s like to be minorities in science and had deep conversations about our experience. It was nice to talk about that as researchers, and you realize that researchers aren’t just a group of super smart nerdy people, that everyone has there own thing they are into, We’re all college students, you’ve got people you can chill with, play games with, talk with. I made lifelong friends there.
Going was also very beneficial for my future. I got to go look at the programs I was interested in and I was able to talk to program officers at Northwestern, got to ask all the questions I had which would have been harder to do if t was just online. I got to sit in on a class I was interested in and saw different research going. I was even was a subject for a research project. I got to see a lab I didn’t even know about, and the person who runs that lab is someone I’d like to work with. I also got to see different mentors labs, give me more direction. This experience gave me a lot more confidence moving forward and I fully believe that I can succeed. It shows your self-worth because you may not realize just how valuable you are. These people are investing thousands of dollars for you to go out there--you didn’t just luck out, you’re there because you’ve worked hard, you’ve done well, and they want you because of that. For this program, it gave me an opportunity to qualify for the early admissions process at Northwestern before applications were even open to the public. Although I found out I didn’t get into the doctoral interdepartmental neuroscience program because I don’t have the coursework yet, I was offered a post-baccalaureate experience so I can learn the things necessary for the program.



Priscilla glows with joy in portrait shotPriscilla Salcedo
Summer Research Site: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Research topic:
I did research with the PDB, or Protein Data Bank. The PDB is an online archive that holds more than 130,000 3D macromolecular models. I correlated which enzymes were linked to antimicrobial resistance using bioinformatics. Moreover, I studied the relationship between the beta lactam antibiotic and the New Delhi beta lactamase enzyme.



Sarai poses in front of gator statue at the University of Florida campusSarai Aguirre
Summer Research Site: University of Florida
Research topic:
Using exploratory factor analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, and structural equation modeling, I analyzed the following outcomes in African American and White adolescents: internalizing mental health (e.g.depressive symptoms) and delinquency. I was interested in seeing whether family violence, community violence, and peer delinquency influenced these outcomes. I also analyzed whether parental monitoring, family support, or friend support moderated these relationships.

About my Experience:
Conducting research with the SURF program at the University of Florida was extremely challenging, but rewarding. When I first started the program and found out the work I had to do, I told myself "there is no way I'm going to be able to do this." Being so far away from home and all my loved ones at home made this experience even more challenging, but I learned that as an individual, I am capable of being self-reliant and resilient. Not only was I able to complete my research project, but I was able to gain so much life and research experience. I gained the confidence in myself and to move forward with my academic and research endeavors.



Steven poses with a colleague Adrian on balcony of Purdue CampusSteven Meza
Summer Research Site: Purdue University
Research topic
My mentor, Dr. Adrían Buganza in the department of mechanical engineering, works on finite element analysis for a lot of biomechanics. Currently there is no standard in choosing a skin flap design and a surgeon's choice is based on personal experience. A comparison of the mechanical loading in these various designs has not yet been done. Our research involved developed a parametric study, using finite element analysis, of two advancement skin flaps designs. The study focuses on the stresses in the design as the defect size is increased. From this study, we have found that the stresses of a skin flap on a planar surface are dependent on the defect size. In addition, the choice of skin flap can significantly impact the stresses. In surgery, when skin is removed, a piece of skin from the surrounding area (skin flap) needs to be designed in a way where it can cover the area with minimal stress on the skin.

About my Experience:
I had a lot of fun over the 11 week period. I learned that I am able to learn new techniques in a new and relatively uncomfortable environment and thrive. Throughout my summer experience, I believe everything was a new experience from lifestyle, research topic. Some of the challenges I faced included learning new software, but I gained experience with a software the is widely used and highly respected in both academia and industry. It was also a challenge adjusting to living away from home for an extended period. I was able to deal with these problems by using my mentors’ and advisors’ advice whenever possible, and adjusting to life away from home by achieving certain milestones one at a time. Through my experience I gained a lot of independence and got comfortable being on my own.



Victoria smiles as she presents her research Victoria L. Womble
Summer Research Site: University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas
Research topic
The research I conducted this summer of 2017 was the examination of postural stability and motor control in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Developmental Coordination Disorders (DCD), and Typical Developmental (TD) participants from around the Denton-Fort Worth Texas Community. We saw that ASD and DCD have similar difficulties in postural stability and motor control. However, the extent of their differences remain unclear to when those characteristics occur. We believe the differences of the two clinical groups are related towards visuomotor integration. We collected data through a biosway, which is a force plate platform that detects center of pressure. The biosway connects to a display that has a screen where the participants played two specific games that tested their postural stability and motor control. Our lab also collected data on the eye-tracking device that recorded where each participants were looking while the participants were playing the games. There was one camera on each frame and a camera between the frames of the glasses. Our purpose of this research study was to collect data on the differences in visuomotor integration of ASD and DCD groups, and compare their capabilities towards TD participants.



Yanelliz Melchor
Summer Research Site: University of California, Santa Barbara
Research topic
My research was based off of the proposed idea that reasoning strategies are lateralized in the hemispheres of the brain. In order to test this, stimuli of contradicting evidence is needed. This is where I branched into the study that I conducted where I looked into evidence order and decision making between voter and juror scenarios (stimuli of contradicting evidence) where participants were presented with the same 6 pieces of evidence; three for and three against. Examining a recency effect of decision and which type of evidence is most persuasive in influencing a decision.
About my Experience: Going away to a research program is the most eye opening and exciting experience you will receive, as it is challenging however equally fun to be around other individuals who hold the same interests and desire for academia as you do.