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Voices of ACES Blog

Nutrition research lab experience helps FSHN student learn and grow

Allanah Martin standing next to her presentation

Hi! My name is Allanah Martin and I am a junior at the University of Illinois majoring in Nutrition and Health. I hope to attend medical school after graduation. Going into college as a premedical student I knew that I should be a part of a research lab. I decided to start my first semester freshman year, which is much earlier than most students. I joined Dr. Jaume Amengual’s Laboratory and worked under a Ph.D. candidate named Anthony Miller for the past two years. It is very uncommon for a person fresh out of high school to participate in a biochemical nutrition lab. However, this is the experience ACES provides for their students.

I am no prodigy; I was completely lost the first few months I started at the lab. In the all-lab weekly meetings 95% of the research topics presented went over my head. However, Dr. Amengual would take the time to break down the topics so that I could understand them. He would even conduct mock interviews to help prepare me for medical school interviews. His guidance helped me understand why I was performing the experiments I was doing and helped me feel involved in the lab. I remember my first day participating in the lab, I had the privilege of smooshing 64 samples of mice feces . . . yay. Ask anyone in Dr. Amengual’s lab, I quickly became an expert at smooshing mice feces.

While handling mice feces was a vital component of the project I was working on, I did much more in the lab. I learned several lab techniques, how to handle mice, and addition information about nutrition that is not covered in my classes. This knowledge has helped me in my advanced lab and nutrition courses. Outside of the physical lab work I was also given the opportunity to attend academic conferences, the honor to be listed on academic posters, and I presented my contributions in the lab at the undergraduate research symposium. These experiences have shaped me into the student I am today.

I strongly encourage everyone to get involved in research. Even if you are unsure about it, I challenge you to try it for at least a semester. I decided to start research my freshman year because I thought it was something I had to do to get into medical school. Little did I know I would end up loving it. The College of ACES has so many opportunities for everyone to become involved in research. It has the resources of a large school while maintaining a close-knit community.

One piece of advice I would give someone thinking about participating in research is to do it. You can start any semester and do not hesitate to start early. The faculty at ACES want to teach you and they will break down everything for you. I truly knew nothing going into the lab, but with the guidance from Dr. Amengual and Anthony I have grown as a student of science. Reach out to professors whose research interests you, I promise you it will be worth it.