Julia Chen Biology Research

Name: Julia Chen 

Class: 2021

Major: Biology and Psychology 

Hometown: Ocala, Florida  

Name of research project: Unlocking the Secrets of Two New Viruses With a Unique Type of Blueprints

Name of faculty research mentor: Richard Alvey

Name of research grant: Eckley Summer Scholars and Artists Endowment 

Research Summary: My research project is on bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria. Phages, like all other viruses, introduce their genetic material (most commonly double-stranded DNA) into a host cell in order to propagate themselves. The objective of my proposal is to examine a branch of phage evolution that is vastly different from the majority of previously known phages. Specifically, I will focus on exploring phages believed to carry their genetic information in the form of single-stranded DNA. 


How has Illinois Wesleyan prepared you for conducting research?

Illinois Wesleyan is a member of the Science Education Alliance - Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program, a laboratory section that I was selected to partake in during my freshman year. Through this program, I was able to experience authentic research and gain first-hand knowledge of common methodologies used by microbiologists. I was able to apply these techniques in order to isolate my very own bacteriophage. 

Julia in the lab
Julia conducting her research in one of the biology labs located in IWUs Center for Natural Sciences. 

What do you hope to gain from this experience as you look forward to your future? 

With this invaluable experience in hand, I hope to gain insight on what it means to be both a student and a researcher. As someone interested in a career involving the control of infectious pathogens, the opportunity of researching a topic that has direct relevance allows me to integrate myself into direct and relevant research. This fellowship allows me an opportunity to explore the intricate evolutionary relationships between hosts and pathogens which provides a brief glance at the multifaceted field of microbiology. 


What’s been your favorite part of conducting research so far? 

My favorite part of conducting research so far has definitely been developing and conducting my own unique research project. My research mentor and fellow members of the research lab also made this experience enjoyable and rewarding.


In your opinion, why is it important for undergraduate students to participate in research opportunities? 

I believe it is important for undergraduates to experience research because it allows for collaboration between faculty and students. Additionally, it is a good way for students to appreciate the field that they’re interested in. Interacting with Ria Patel, a fellow research lab member, and Dr. Richard Alvey, my research mentor, has resulted in invaluable experiences. Dr. Alvey has provided guidance in the undertaking of various experience and feedback on the results obtained. Ria and I often consult with each other on our projects and give each other advice and bounce ideas off of each other, which I believe is part of what research is all about.