Even before she came to UC Merced last year, Esmeralda Aguayo knew she wanted a career in scientific research. In fact, that’s a big reason the Modesto native chose the newest UC instead of following her older sister’s footsteps to Davis or taking the offer she received from Berkeley.
“I knew I’d have a much better chance of doing research here, where it’s small,” she said.
She quickly proved that projection correct, inquiring with Dean Maria Pallavicini of the School of Natural Sciences even before beginning her freshman year. Since then, she’s been involved in researching cell-to-cell interactions in hematopoetic (bone marrow) stem cells in Pallavicini’s lab.
“Last year, when I was adapting to a new school, it really helped me,” she said. “The people in the lab were already familiar to me since I’d been working there all summer. All the students are really nice and keep a positive attitude. I think it’s because they really want to learn.”
Aguayo says her research experience has provided helpful perspective as she’s progressed through her coursework.
“The lab was almost like summer school, helping me understand and remember the things I learned and apply principles from my classes in a specific way,” she explained. “I’ve also learned how to retrace my steps and try again if a technique or experiment doesn’t work - there’s lots of troubleshooting. And then when something does work, it makes you really happy!”
Now a sophomore biological sciences major, Aguayo is tutoring other students in organic chemistry, so she had to give up her job in Pallavicini’s lab. But she’s still part of the group - she works in the lab as a volunteer.
“That makes it a little more flexible for my classes,” she said.
She needs that kind of focus as she begins the drive toward graduate school and her long-term career goals.
“I want the ability to form my own questions and find out the answers first hand,” she said. “That’s what makes research so interesting to me.”