Avnika Ruparelia: “I became a UROP supervisor because I wanted to give back what I got”

Avnika Ruparelia is a Research Fellow in the Currie Group at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI). She did her UROP placement in 2009 also at ARMI, where she discovered the zebra fish model for muscle disease. Ten years later, Avnika has become a UROP supervisor to give back all that she got from her experience. Read Avnika’s research journey and how UROP played its part.

How was your UROP experience?

When I was first placed at ARMI, I didn’t know what I would be doing and knew nothing about zebra fish. During my UROP experience with Associate Professor Robert Bryson-Richardson and Professor Peter Currie, I discovered not only that I liked research, but that I was passionate about it. My work during the placement set the foundations for my PhD, and therefore, for what I am doing right now as a post-doc. My UROP experience definitely shaped my scientific career!

You have been a student and now you are a supervisor. What made you decide to take on a UROP student?     

I wanted to give back what I got. I had seen the benefits of UROP, so I wanted to make it possible for somebody else and give them their first research experience in a lab. Also, because I had a great supervisor I now want to become that person for a new student. Who knows, maybe in ten years from now, this student will speak about me in the same way I speak about my supervisor!

What would you say is the value of UROP for students?

UROP gives students a real insight of what research is all about. In undergrad prac classes, all experiments are set up to work towards the expected outcomes, but that’s not a true representation of reality… Most of the time, it’s the other way around! UROP students get exposed to real lab work and learn how to tackle failure, which is a key learning for any career. The UROP placement also is a great opportunity for students to test the waters and see if research is something they feel passionate about and want to pursue further.

I had seen the benefits of UROP, so I wanted to make it possible for somebody else.

And what would you say is the value of UROP for supervisors?

Students bring in fresh ideas! When we have been in the lab for some time, we get used to following protocols blindly or we forget to ask the simple questions about our own research. For supervisors, it is fantastic to have someone asking “why do we do this like this?” as it helps us reflect on our work. And of course, an extra pair of hands to help move the research forward is always welcome and appreciated.

What do you think is key to being a good supervisor?

I believe supervisors should take the time to teach and train their students, remembering what they were like the first time they entered a lab and how much they knew. Good supervisors should be able to put themselves in the students’ shoes and understand their position, without negative judgement.


Read more about the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) here.