Dr Patricia Jusuf: “There is a big difference between UROP and other undergraduate programs”

Dr Patricia Jusuf is a Lecturer at the School of BioSciences (The University of Melbourne) and Group Leader of the Jusuf Lab. Her research looks into the genetics of nerve cells to understand how they are generated and regenerated. Read on for Patricia’s insights following her experience as a UROP Supervisor.

You became a UROP supervisor in 2012, after finishing a post-doctoral fellowship in the UK. When you submitted your project, you were a senior researcher setting up a research program in neural development and regeneration at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI). What made you decide to be part of UROP?

I had been recruited at ARMI as a senior post-doc within Peter Currie’s Muscle Research Group at the start of 2011. Peter Currie, nowadays the Institute Director, encouraged me to put in a project for UROP. I thought it could be a great opportunity because there was a lot of work to be done and also because it could help me develop my mentoring skills. I had heard about the high calibre of UROP students, so it was really an easy decision to make!

How was your experience with your student?

I was very impressed with Andrew. He was really motivated and keen to learn, he wanted to be in our lab and definitely earned his place there. His motivation translated into a very positive work attitude, which meant that he was not only intelligent and good at learning techniques, but he was also a pleasure to work with.

What do you think makes UROP special?  

There is a big difference between UROP and other undergraduate programs. A majority of undergrad programs get assessed, which means that students need to have results, and this tends to make projects more tailored and time-consuming for the supervisor. But as UROP is not for assessment it makes for a very hands-on experience that allows supervisors to spend time exposing their UROP students to lab meetings, lab work and relevant seminars, in addition to training them in the laboratory skills needed to get data for their UROP project.

UROP students should consider the bigger picture and view
their placement as a privilege and an amazing career opportunity 
.

From your UROP experience, what do you think students bring to a research team?

UROP scholars are very intelligent and capable, so having them around helps the whole lab on many levels. For supervisors, having a UROP student keeps us aware that we are role models helping to shape a young person’s future, which motivates us to be our best selves in and out of the lab. Having a student also helps us in terms of science communication, because it can be challenging to explain a complex project to someone who has limited experience in the field. Indeed, learning how to effectively explain research goals, methods and outcomes is actually very useful for the whole lab – and this communication skills can assist us on other occasions, such as when grant writing.

BioMedVic’s UROP methodology matches a research project with a specific student candidate. How would you value this feature of the program?

From a student point of view, this is a major benefit because it allows students to explore an area they are interested in, so it is an invaluable experience. Even if a student ends up in another field of research, there are many skills that are transferable across research jobs, including lab techniques, safety procedures and science communication. From a supervisor perspective, the fact that students get placed based on their interests is crucial in terms of their attitude, their honest involvement in the lab, and the level of the discussions held. It’s beneficial for both parties!

What tips would you give to students about to start their UROP placement?

I would tell them to focus on the positives. It’s normal for some experiments to fail but UROP students should consider the bigger picture and view their placement as a privilege and an amazing career opportunity.

And what tips would you give to UROP supervisors?

I would recommend supervisors adapt the project to the student and set realistic goals. Also, to integrate the student into your team and keep in mind what an amazing role you have in shaping somebody’s future!


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