I could honestly say that participating in the DIY Diagnostics stream of the FRI (Freshman Research Initiative) program has been one of the best decisions of my college career. Even though I didn’t know too much about the program when I first applied, I am extremely grateful that I did it anyway and gained experiences that I would have never had at any other college. In a general sense, the FRI program is a set of ‘classes’ that put you in a lab with mentors as you work on research with real-world applications. For your first semester, you are placed in a classroom setting where you learn the basics of research, both in-lab and field work. You are also taught how to collect, analyze, and apply data gained through your research. For your second semester in the FRI program, you are allowed to pick a specific ‘stream’ that you’d like to be sorted into and work in for your next several semesters in the program. There are dozens of streams to choose from, each with a new topic and field of research.
For my second semester in the FRI program, I chose the DIY Diagnostics stream for my focus on research. Given my interests in becoming an orthopedic surgeon, I believed that this steam would provide me with experiences that I carry forward in my future career, and it has done so thus far. My interest in the stream peaked when we began our research on the Zika diagnostic tool that could be used to identify Zika in a set of DNA. Over the past several years, Zika has become a rising threat around the world, especially the United States. The work we completed through this research had the potential of becoming a major break-through in terms of the Zika virus and finding ways to treat it, and or prevent against it.
If it weren’t for the FRI program at UT, I would not have been able to gain the lab experience I am gaining as an undergraduate student in any other school or program. In most other schools, students usually aren’t given a chance to work in the lab until the reach graduate school, or maybe even senior year of undergrad. There are so many benefits from gaining these experiences at such an early age, that you could eventually carry on with you no matter what field of study you choose. The lab skills you learn simply from trial and error in the lab are vital for upper division research and will eventually pave your way towards what you want to do. Rather than a typical ‘classroom’ setting, students in the DIY Diagnostics stream are given the chance to work on these research projects without the direction from a professor, allowing you to learn through trial and error than simply through lecture. Overall, choosing the FRI program and the DIY Diagnostics stream for my venture in research has been one of my greatest choices here at UT Austin and I’m so excited for the research and continued projects to come.
PCR samples of a single synthetic strand of the Zika virus, to be placed in a water-bath incubator