Congratulations 2019 Goldwater Scholar Carla Pantoja

SRC: What has been your most significant research experience at UCLA? What attracted you to the project?

CP: My most significant research experience at UCLA has been joining the Gomperts Lab! I have been fortunate enough to participate in the entirety of science research: from conducting experiments, troubleshooting, co-writing a manuscript and ultimately being able to celebrate our work with others in academia!

SRC: What are your plans for the upcoming year, after you graduate?

CP: I will be taking two gap years while I apply to MD/PhD programs. In the meantime, I hope to be conducting research at the NIH!

SRC: What advice do you have for students who are thinking about applying for the Goldwater Scholarship?

CP: The Goldwater scholarship application can be time intensive, so set aside time to truly fine-tune your application to put your best foot forward. I found this period to be very introspective and allowed me to truly evaluate my career plans and passions.

Congratulations to 2019 Goldwater Scholar Carla Pantoja!

Congratulations 2019 Goldwater Scholar Abby Thurm

SRC: What was your research career like at UCLA? Any updates since receiving the Goldwater Scholarship?

AT: I have co-authored four published or submitted peer-reviewed articles (two as first author) and one article in the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal, am named as a contributor on two UCLA Invention Reports, one of which is in the process of being filed as a U.S. Provisional Patent, and I have presented six posters at five undergraduate symposia and one professional international conference. For these accomplishments, I have been awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the UCLA Undergraduate Research Scholars Program fellowship, the UCLA Chemistry/Biochemistry Raymond and Dorothy Wilson fellowship, and was named a UCLA Amgen Scholar for summer 2019 and Harvard Stem Cell Institute Intern for summer 2018.

Outside the lab, I was also involved in research-based outreach clubs, volunteering with underprivileged elementary school kids, and was president of the club equestrian team.

My most significant research experience at UCLA by far was working in the Gelbart/Knobler lab, where I was given the independence to direct and shape my own projects that resulted in the first-author papers – they taught me how to become confident and scientifically curious, and nurtured me into becoming the scientist and person I am today.

SRC: What are your main goals as you look ahead to your MD/PhD program?

AT: My goals for the MD/PhD are to gain a wider clinical perspective through my medical training even as I pursue a PhD in biophysics, so I can contextualize my research in terms of current medical issues and better focus the projects I work on. I eventually want to be a PI leading a lab in translational science.

SRC: What advice would you give to students who are planning to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship?

AT: My advice for the Goldwater scholarship would be to identify strong letter-writers, hopefully people like your PI/research mentors who can speak positively toward your abilities as a young scientist, and to put a lot of time into the research statement – make sure you can easily articulate the goal of your project, and emphasize the role you specifically had in that project’s development and progress.

Congratulations to 2019 Goldwater Scholar Abby Thurm

Congratulations 2020 Goldwater Scholar Spenser Talkington

2020 Goldwater Scholar Spenser Talkington

SRC: What has been your most important research experience at UCLA, and what attracted you to the project?

ST: I’ll talk about the research experience that led to my Goldwater scholarship. During my sophomore year, I took a solid state physics course with HongWen Jiang, and got to know him through class and office hours. He then offered me a summer position in his lab and I worked with his group. Fairly quickly I ran into an issue: my simulations of quantum dot qubits had extra oscillations. After a few weeks of careful consideration and comparison we determined that the oscillations were real: Landau Zener interference. I then optimized the algorithms for my simulations and wrote a paper.

SRC: What are your plans for the upcoming year?

ST: Graduate school and fellowships have preoccupied my thoughts a lot lately, however concrete academic goals I want to achieve in the coming year are: (1) complete my studies of the delocalization transition in Chern insulators (2) develop my knowledge of correlation functions and the renormalization group, phrase my work in this language, and write my thesis (3) create course materials for Physics 1C (4) learn more about ARPES and ultrafast spectroscopy.

SRC: What advice do you have for students who are planning to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship?

ST: Be interested in your research, work thoughtfully, and revise your application carefully. I wasn’t passionate about my first research experiences in synthetic chemistry, and artificial intelligence hardware, but found projects in condensed matter physics that I am excited to put my entire efforts into. If you are interested in something, you will have fun, be better at it, and be determined to continue through adversity. Be thoughtful; research is about questions, so ask questions and learn how to answer them through thinking, reading, and talking with others. Applications are tough. Nothing is guaranteed, but nothing is impossible. I think this is well conveyed by the story of Carol Greider who won the Nobel Prize in 2009 and was rejected for a grant later the same day. The Goldwater application is about three times longer than the application that got you into UCLA. Put in your best effort; write and revise thoughtfully. Make every word count.