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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

The Quad: Transfer students face unique challenges navigating research opportunities

By Harold King Ho Lee

Nov. 23, 2021 7:50 p.m.

From STEM to humanities research, UCLA offers plenty of opportunities for students to delve deeper into their academic interests. But for some transfer Bruins, the ability to complete their research goals is often met with extra challenges.

UCLA is classified as an R1 institution by the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education. This classification identifies schools as having “very high research activity.” While there are plenty of research opportunities for undergraduate students at UCLA, the experience looks a little different for transfer students who need to network with mentors and advisors while figuring out their research interests within the two-year time frame.

Fourth-year sociology student Tristen Appel-Bernstein said they missed out on research opportunities because they lacked exposure to it before transferring.

“At my city college, there wasn’t really research, like research work wasn’t emphasized as a thing that we should be doing,” Appel-Bernstein said. And so when I got to UCLA, … I wasn’t really thinking that much about research. If anything, I just thought I didn’t want to do it because I had never been exposed to it.”

Fourth-year political science and Chicana and Chicano studies student Alisson Ramos said in an emailed statement that while she is currently writing her senior thesis in political science, her lack of research experience prior to transferring made it difficult.

“For my experience doing a senior thesis, it was difficult navigating through the process. I remember hearing about the research opportunities from URC-HASS but the timeframe was too short for transfer students especially for me since I had no research experience at my CC,” Ramos said.

Fourth-year global studies student Cianna Razo said the process of beginning her thesis came with challenges because of her community college’s limited research opportunities.

“In (my) community college, there was no thesis opportunity necessarily, or it was very limited,” Razo said. “So I kind of went in not really knowing how to go about the thesis or how to research, like the different types of databases available. I only do the basic ones. There was a learning curve that I had to surpass.”

Ramos said in the emailed statement that she felt she had to put in extra effort as a transfer student to learn the research methods offered at UCLA.

“I would agree that in my PS 191 course I felt behind my peers who were at UCLA all four years and that I was playing catch up to even understand the methods used,” Ramos said.

UCLA alumnus Karina Nugroho was a transfer student and said balancing a new life at UCLA was challenging amid the search for interesting research programs and labs.

“UCLA is completely different paced than what you’re used to in community college,” Nugroho said. “On top of that, you still have to figure out your passion, your interest and … interview for a bunch of labs or a bunch of research programs. … It takes a lot of your time.”

Ramos said in the emailed statement that it is important to network and create a strong support system during one’s experience in research, whether it be with faculty or mentors.

“I kept asking professors during their office hours what the process was,” Ramos said. “While the system is harsh and cruel with a good support system and making your passion known then people can guide you to resources that can help.”

UCLA also offers a variety of resources to help students better navigate their journeys in research. Razo said departments such as the UCLA International Institute provide global and regional studies as well as resources, counselors and alumni, which can provide transfer students with useful information.

“I mainly just use the resources (from the International Institute) and talk to my counselors. … I also reached out to former alumni within the global studies department within the global studies major and ask them (for) advice on how to navigate,” Razo said.

Despite all the hurdles and hard work that can come with joining research programs as a transfer student, Razo said it is very rewarding to be a part of undergraduate research as she can explore the research topic she is passionate about.

“Just doing something that you love and having that ability and freedom and then … at the end of the process by spring, I’m like, ‘Whoa, I did something that not every undergraduate can do,'” Razo said.

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