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Scholar Spotlight

Lauren Tolat: Success in the Lab

Lauren Tolat is a sophomore Tier One, Honors College student studying pre-pharmacy with interests in law and a potential PharmD/JD program, who discovered the rewards of biomedical research — that could someday lead to new therapies to prevent heart disease  — with support from the Tier One research stipend.

“At first, I was really happy (about the scholarship) obviously because my tuition and housing was covered. I didn’t think, however, that I would use the undergraduate research stipend because I felt as a pharmacy student there really were no opportunities with research,” Tolat said. “I mean, a lot of the opportunities that I had heard of coming into the University were sort of engineering and architecture related. But fortunately I spoke to Karen Weber, the director of undergraduate research, and she told me about the opportunities in the College of Pharmacy.”

Tolat Main

For Tolat Summer 2012 was spent in the lab of Bradley McConnell, assistant professor of pharmacology, where she shadowed graduate student Qiying Fan, who was her lab mentor. Initially Tolat said she felt intimidated when she started working because of her lack of advanced science skills as a rising sophomore. However, those feelings quickly faded after the graduate students became her role models.  

“I started small, doing minor things, lab maintenance. And then by the end of my research experience I ended up doing really cool more complicated things that I didn’t think I would be doing,” Tolat said. “That was probably because my graduate students really, really, spent a lot of time telling me, giving me stuff to read, giving me videos to watch, so that I could figure out how to do stuff. That was a really rewarding experience.”

Tolat worked on a project with Fan that explored heart disease in mice that were engineered to have a deficiency in a gene that was related to a specific protein. The mice served as models for the same deficiency in humans. Their goal was to better understand the role the protein plays in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that is common in humans and is attributed to factors like a high fat diet.

Tolat Main

“I think the Tier One Scholarship was extremely important in me getting some type of undergraduate research opportunity,” Tolat said. “Because I was incentivized not to take classes during the summer and most of my classes during the spring and fall, where my tuition was covered, I feel like the stipends provided for undergraduate research and even for study abroad, it was sort of aimed toward working in the summer. Just to get their students involved.”

By the end of the summer Tolat learned that she had to be patient while conducting research. After working on various parts of Fan’s project she realized how time consuming it can be when you’re repeating measures and verifying results. Because of her performance, McConnell recommended Tolat to stay and work in his lab during the Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 semesters.

“I feel like classes don’t have to be within your major,” Tolat said. “A lot of people just do the bare minimum. I think Tier One is aiming for students to go above and beyond and even participate in research throughout their entire career.”

Her hard work also paid off at the 2012 UH Undergraduate Research Day where Tolat competed with more than 125 undergraduates to claim one of the “Audience Favorite” awards for her research poster presentation “Gravin Protein Mediates Signaling in Atherosclerosis Mice Model.”

Follow Lauren's summer research. See pictures, videos and read first hand accounts of her lab experience.