Jeremy Cholfin spends a lot of time in the research lab: typically 10 to 20 hours a week when he's taking classes, and as many as 60 during the summer. But on March 29, Cholfin wasn't even on campus. He was on Capitol Hill, presenting his original research to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Congressman Henry Waxman and a senior aide to California Senator Barbara Boxer.
Cholfin was one of 67 undergraduates nationwide selected by the Council on Undergraduate Research to make a Capitol Hill presentation. A neuroscience major, he is researching the genetic basis of a rare speech disorder. "The brain is tremendously complex," Cholfin says. "Even today, there is so little known about the molecular mechanisms of language development. Research in this field is exciting."
A senior, Cholfin has spent four years in the laboratory of Daniel Geschwind, director of the neurogenetics program and assistant professor of neurology. For Cholfin, research provided something that he couldn't get from his classroom experience. "My classes have been great, but in class, you're presented mostly with the solid facts. In research, you ask questions and try to find the best way to answer them," Cholfin says. "You have to deal with uncertainty. Research is like a jigsaw puzzle. As you fill in the pieces, the picture becomes clearer. I hope to be able to fill in a piece of the language-development puzzle."
Geschwind praised Cholfin as "very thoughtful, dedicated, creative, independent and extremely smart. Jeremy is already working at the level of an advanced graduate student and has everything it takes to be successful," Geschwind says.
Cholfin's awards and honors include four scholarships for academic excellence. He also founded UCLA's Neuroscience Undergraduate Society, whose members discuss new research and go to elementary and secondary classrooms to make presentations on the human brain.
Cholfin will attend a joint M.D./Ph.D. program at UC San Francisco after he graduates. His goal is to treat patients, conduct research on neuroscience and teach. "I hope to connect our understanding of the brain on the molecular level with behavioral abnormalities," he says.
While Cholfin is an outstanding example, he is only one of many undergraduates at UCLA who take advantage of the opportunity to become involved in research projects. "When students engage in research, they see the connections between what they are learning in class and what they are discovering in a laboratory - and those insights help them to see learning in a new light," says Audrey Cramer, director of the Life and Physical Sciences Undergraduate Research Center in the College of Letters & Science. "They learn to think like scientists. I encourage more undergraduate students to participate with faculty in research."