Meredith Hay, UI vice president for research, chatted with Parent Times this fall to promote research opportunities on campus. The Texas native, who previously served as assistant to the vice president for academic affairs in the University of Missouri system, earned a BA in psychology from the University of Colorado at Denver, an MA in neurobiology from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and a PhD in cardiovascular pharmacology from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. She trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the Cardiovascular Center at the UI Carver College of Medicine.
Why should undergraduates get involved in research? Is the work paid?
Research is a great way to get the most out of your education. We have faculty here who are involved in discovery and innovation at every level, whether that’s in life sciences or engineering or in the humanities or the arts. Having a hands-on, out-of-classroom experience not only gives undergraduates a new perspective on how discovery is made and how innovation actually moves forward, but it often helps open up avenues and possibilities for future career paths that a lot of students don’t think about. And it’s a lot of fun.
A student can design a program that best fits his or her interests. Obviously, students are often in need of extra money during the semester, and there certainly are paid positions within laboratories. There also are opportunities for independent study where a student signs up for research credit as a part of his or her curriculum for graduation.
Does it matter if a student is undecided on a major and/or isn’t an honors student? How does one sign up?
All students are invited to participate in discovery and innovation. The first step would be to identify what sparks your imagination or what gets your creative juices going. For some, that may be diving into the archives of the national galleries or the Vatican, and for others that may be exploring the molecular biology of advanced diseases. Then, if you know a faculty member in a particular area, you can visit their web site to see what their research interests are. Or, come to my office and let me know what your dreams and ambitions are, and we’ll try to match you up with a faculty researcher.
What advantages does the University offer regarding research opportunities that other colleges cannot?
At a research-intensive university such as The University of Iowa, students have access to working with scientists and researchers that others would only dream of. We have, for example, a space physics program here that is second to none, where students can work side by side with Professor Don Gurnett. Or they can work side by side with Professor Kevin Campbell, looking for the cures for muscular dystrophy. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for students to be this close, working as peers, with some of these top scholars. It would be very unfortunate if students didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities that The University of Iowa offers. It’s not just another undergraduate institution. It is a world-class research university where your only limit is your imagination. That sounds a little bit trite and a little bit trivial but it’s absolutely true.
How important is it to the University to have undergraduates involved in research projects?
It’s fundamental to who we are and who we hope to be as a university. First and foremost, we exist to enable and encourage students to be the absolute best they can be, and also to enable and encourage our faculty to discover and create and innovate and teach and be the best they can be. And when you can bring together the best and brightest of the undergraduates with the best and brightest of the faculty, amazing things happen. I’ve had undergraduates in my own laboratory who bring to the process of research a sense of discovery and amazement, and that is thrilling not just for the student but also for the faculty researcher. This cycle of creativity is the reason we’re here.
As a cardiovascular neurobiologist, I study how the brain regulates blood pressure. Much of our research is focused on understanding the differences between males and females in the development of hypertension and high blood pressure—and I invite any undergraduates with interest in being part of this research to let me know. We would love to engage more students in our work.
Any parting words for parents?
First, I welcome your feedback. Second, encourage your sons and daughters to engage in research and discovery and innovation as much as possible, because they may only get one chance to rub elbows with potential Nobel laureates and national academy members and Pulitzer Prize winners. If they get involved with the faculty and the research, their experience at The University of Iowa will be exponentially greater.