Since becoming a freshman at the University of Georgia, Muktha Natrajan has spent the past year and a half conducting scientific research and building relationships with faculty members and her peers.
Now a sophomore, Natrajan is in her second year of UGA's Apprentice Program, part of the Honors Program's Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities.
She is working in the laboratory of Steve Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in reproductive physiology. She is one of 30 freshman and sophomores chosen for the program.
"Fifty percent of what they experience is actually learning about content and methods," said Pamela Kleiber, the associate director of UGA's Honors Program and the research center. "The other 50 percent is negotiating relationships."
Natrajan, a 2007 Lakeside High School graduate, is double majoring in genetics and ecology. She is currently working with neuro stem cells, she said. The goal of the research is to eventually find cures for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, she said.
"Everything she does has to have academic integrity," Kleiber said. "There needs to be a learning plan."
Natrajan said she became interested in the environmental aspect of research and health after she attended a genetics research program in China this summer that was taught by a UGA professor.
"When I went there, we did some ecological research on the genetics of invasive plant species," she said. "I decided I wanted to work with the neuro stem cells and work to see how different pollutants affect the cells and how the pollution in our air relates to neurological disorders, so that's my goal for my research."
Natrajan receives a $1,000 stipend each semester and earns academic credit for her participation. The apprentices attend weekly seminars by guest lecturers in addition to conducting their own research and working with a mentor. Students must maintain a 3.4 GPA to continue the program.
"After a year of learning, now Muktha is really ready to begin asking her own questions and work within the context of her professors' research project," Kleiber said. "The skills that they develop in terms of critical thinking and problem solving will be helpful to them regardless of what career they choose."
After she completes the program in the spring, Natrajan will have the opportunity to continue the apprenticeship as a teaching assistant, providing encouragement and guidance to her peers.
"I hope to keep in contact with the professors that I've met and to keep up-to-date on their research, just because I think that's important to do while you're in college to know what's going on in your campus," she said.
Natrajan's future includes plans to attend graduate school for environmental health science and obtain a master's degree in public health. She said she wants to continue studying the effect of pollutants on brain cells.
"With that research, I hope to do some public polices through the government and kind of get people interested and just have them know about the research that I'm doing and how pollution is effecting our public health and our society," she said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.