Perspectives about Spring 2021 research training from FIRE Research Educators and Fall 2020 FIRE Semester 3 students.

FIRE Research Educator Perspectives


Hello, Fire Semester 1 Students! I am Dr. Molly Goodfellow, the research educator for the Animal and Human Relationships (AHR) stream. We are dedicated to understanding the interactions between social relationships, behavior, and the brain. Our stream integrates concepts and techniques from neuroscience and clinical psychology, providing students with a translational research experience. Our stream continues to generate new and exciting data, even in a remote learning format. Individuals registered for the AHR Human Lab will be embedded in the clinical psychology Comprehensive Assessment and Intervention Program (CAIP) Lab, where they will participate in a new, Zoom-based experiment on telemedicine as well as produce data from an ongoing study on family relationships. Those who choose the AHR Animal Lab will learn how to analyze microscopic brain images from the UMD Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Lab and and quantify rat social behavior for our collaborators at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, thereby contributing to important research on neurodevelopment. While the remote format can be challenging for training and limits our access to certain techniques, AHR is committed to moving research forward. So, if you’re interested in learning more about psychology and neuroscience and feel up to the challenge of doing real, impactful research from home, please consider joining the AHR stream!


Hello FIRE Semester 1 students! I am Dr. Risco—the Research Educator for the Addiction Science stream. If you are curious about individual differences in vulnerability to substance use or how socio-cultural factors might impact risk behavior and health—well, then FIRE AS is the stream for you! The core plan for 2021 is to develop your capacities to analyze risk behavior data and cultivate your knowledge of the literature on racial/ethnic disparities in substance use and health. This will be accomplished via group-based research where you will have the opportunity to select a dataset from a number of options produced by our Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience research team and previous FIRE AS streams. These datasets span the full range of measurement approaches used in the field including neuropsychological, behavioral performance, and self-report assessments of substance use and other health-relevant risk behaviors as well mental health and socio-cultural factors. The populations sampled are also quite varied in that they range from community samples of young adults to residents of an inpatient treatment facility for substance use. The breadth of datasets available will make it possible for you to formulate your project aims based on your particular interests and training goals. To complement the data analytic work you will be doing, we will pursue connections between ongoing stream research and COVID-related challenges including the downstream effects of COVID-19 mitigation strategies on substance use, stress, and mental health with a primary focus on racial/ethnic minority communities. I am very excited about the possibilities for this new iteration of FIRE AS and hope you consider joining our team!


Hello FIRE Semester 1 students, I am Dr. Hall, and I am the FIRE Research Educator for the Bacterial Pathogenesis Lab. My lab is interested in understanding how the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes a specific infection in humans. While the bulk of the experimental research for our discipline usually requires in-person activity performed in a laboratory, we are working diligently to create an online learning experience that provides you with an authentic immersion in the field. You will learn about standard techniques in the microbiology field, such as the aseptic techniques used when working with bacterial cultures. We will also cover topics on bacterial physiology and genetics 2. innovative molecular tools used to manipulate DNA including CRISPR /dCas9 3. How to find, read and synthesize scientific research articles within the field 4. how to analyze experimental data and 5. how to write a research proposal. If we are able to resume in-person lab activities later in the 2021 academic year, you will already have a strong foundation to begin working in the lab and executing the experiments you have designed in your research proposal. I hope that you are interested in being a part of the FIRE BP stream. If you are curious about bacteria, molecular genetics, or how bacteria cause infections, please consider joining the FIRE-BP stream.


Hello! I'm Jonathan Goodson, the Research Educator for the FIRE stream Computational Biology. If you attended (or will attend!) the FIRE Summit, our stream was previously called "Transcriptomics of Disease". This past year our students drove an expansion in the types of projects our stream works on, some more biological and some more computational. All of our projects revolve around answering biology-focused research questions using the power of data. Through training, we learn to use scripting languages, either R or Python, to help us create tailored analytical approaches and learn more about biology.
In Computational Biology we have the advantage that all of our research is already digital, working primarily by connecting to research tools in the cloud. I won't lie, there can be a struggle to connect, when everyone is remote and can, at best, talk in Zoom calls, as you well know. This scenario does come with some advantages though. You can end up with substantially more flexibility when you don’t need to trek over to the AV Williams building to join in when you can pop into Zoom or Slack from wherever you are. I’m working hard on plans to help us all work better together in the case that we stay remote in the spring.
If you do join us, during Semester 2 you will receive training in a few different modules, letting you experience the range of opportunities Computational Biology offers. Those may be focusing on the analysis of particular high-throughput sequencing experiments, evolutionary analysis of viral pandemics, or joining in on a large, multi-year project to apply cutting-edge advances in deep learning to genomics. You’ll get an opportunity to decide what most-interests you and join in on either new or existing projects where you want to be on the spectrum from biology to computer science. If you have any interest in quantitative biology or applied computer science, please consider joining Computational Biology this Spring semester!


I am Dr. Jones, the Research Educator for FIRE-Cloud Computing. I hope you will consider joining my stream which focuses on studying big datasets related to clouds in the atmosphere through an advanced computational lens, such as artificial intelligence and geospatial analysis with Python. In the FIRE-CC stream all of our work is digital, so we have been able to navigate the challenges of virtual classes, meetings, and research very smoothly. The biggest remaining challenge is fostering that sense of community when you aren’t able to physically work side by side. However, through the use of slack workspaces and small team meetings via Google meet we are still able facilitate a community atmosphere. One bonus of being a virtual member of the stream is that you have maximum flexibility in when you do your research. You are no longer constrained to the lab’s open hours being during “business hours” only.
Soon I will be undertaking the task of evaluating the stream’s research progress in 2020 and determining what exciting ways you and I can build on that research in 2021 through your advanced training in FIRE semester 2, the FIRE summer scholars and summer fellows programs, and the research projects you will lead for FIRE semester 3. Whenever we are able to be back in person we will continue to move towards these goals with the added social and collaborative benefits of being able to work side by side in the lab. I know things feel very uncertain right now. We don’t have all the information we want, and things may not be how we pictured them but we can still do awesome things together if we seize the opportunities in front of us. Hang in there! I hope you will stick with FIRE and consider joining my stream. Sincerely, Dr. Jones


I am Dr. Raymond Tu, and I am the Research Educator for FIRE Capital One Machine Learning. I hope you are interested in joining my stream, and I look forward to making you a part of our research teams. We will be doing advanced training in machine learning using research and industry toolsets to build different research products for computer vision, natural language processing, automation, data analytics, etc. This year, our stream has adapted to do our training remotely during the FIRE Semesters 2 & 3, and we were able to come out ahead and maintain a strong community in our stream and in our research teams. In the Spring semester, our wonderful peer mentors and I will focus on giving you a strong foundation in recent machine learning techniques relevant to real-world applications. We will also guide you through reading and interpreting relevant literature from scholarly papers and source code from public repositories in our field. During the Summer semester, we also offer optional FIRE summer programs that enable a fully-intensive summer experience. You will also work on developing your own research proposal that fits into the context of our stream’s research. Our summer programs offer an excellent opportunity for you to rapidly advance your research and professional skills. I wish you all the best and hope that you are considering being a part of my stream. At FIRE Capital One Machine Learning, you will get the opportunity to become involved in an exciting research field, collaborate with your peers, and develop your research and communication skills. If machine learning and AI is potentially a part of your career plans in the future, FIRE Capital One Machine Learning is one of the FIRE streams you should seriously consider.


Hi FIRE Semester 1 students, I am Dr. Vieira, the Research Educator for FIRE Found in Translation. I hope you will consider joining my stream in the Spring. We focus on studying viral mechanisms that can be exploited to develop live attenuated vaccines. This year, the FIRE-FIT stream adapted to the virtual world and focused on how our research intersects with the research being done to develop vaccines and therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2. I will soon start reflecting on the 2020 research progress and planning out the research goals for next year. One of my goals is to maintain a strong sense of community in our research stream through Slack, synchronous meetings on Zoom, and the support of our peer research mentors. In the Spring, the peer mentors and I will give you the foundation you need to hit the ground running when we can access our lab. We will use interactive virtual lab simulations and other resources to get you familiar with the biology techniques we use in our lab. We will also guide you through reading and interpreting literature in our field as you develop your own research proposal. Keep in mind that the stream is a year-long experience. Regardless of what happens in the Spring semester, I hope to welcome you to the lab for the FIRE Summer programs and FIRE Semester 3. I hope you will continue with FIRE and would love to welcome you into our stream next Spring! Sincerely, Dr. Vieira


Greetings FIRE Semester 1 Students, I am Ben Huffman the FIRE Research Educator for Global Development & Design (GDD). We are living in extraordinary times where decisions and polices have global implications. Our stream explores what ethical development around the world really means and needs. We examine the value-based differences impacting the world and the technological and design tools that can assist practitioners. The goal of this stream is to create an interactive, open-access, online toolkit that mainstreams the imperatives of ethical, inclusive development into each stage of the design process. The stream is uniquely positioned to achieve these results ‘virtually’ or in-lab. As a member of this stream you will have the chance to conduct individual research on topics related to International Development, while working in a team environment clustered by themes. Whether online or in-person you will have the opportunity to learn and employ different skills that will aid your development as a social scientist. Over the course of this next year, you will work closely with your research educator and peer mentors to gain knowledge in the principles of international development and best practices in social impact programming; as well as, development ethics, moral philosophy, and human development. For those interested in the more practical aspects of the stream, you will gain exposure to web design, coding, and application development utilizing the principles of human-centered design. If you are interested in pursuing a career in the field in International Development or are just interested in global development issues, please consider this stream. Warmest regards, Dr. Huffman


Hello! My name is Dr. Jessica O’Hara and I am the Research Educator for the Host-Pathogen Interactions stream. Viruses are pathogens infect and hijack living cells in order to drive their own replication and as a result are completely dependent on the host cell to provide the building blocks to generate new virions. In the HPI lab, our research is focus on better understanding how viruses alter host cell metabolism, which could help identify novel potential therapeutic targets with big implications for human health. To achieve these goals we work with the model organism of E. coli bacteria and its natural predator, the bacteriophage. Even in a virtual environment, current FIRE HPI students have been able to successfully execute their own research proposals to carry out novel research projects which have yielded exciting and compelling results. This work has been especially relevant as we currently live with the impacts of a novel virus that we have few effective treatments for. Regardless of what the spring semester will look like, I am fully committed to helping each incoming HPI student achieve the same goals as past students. You will still gain a strong foundation basic microbiology methods, learn how to interpret and analyze data, become well acquainted with the scientific literature in the field, and ultimately propose and execute your own independent research project. I look forward to welcoming the next cohort of HPI students, building a strong and supportive community, and seeing all that we can achieve in 2021.


Hello FIRE Semester 1 students! I am Dr. Spirito, the Research Educator for the FIRE-Molecular Diagnostics stream (formerly called Engineering Biosensors). I hope that you will consider joining my stream this coming spring. The peer mentors and I are looking forward to making you a part of our research team. The Molecular Diagnostics stream focuses on designing and testing molecular diagnostics and other biosensors for environmental and human health applications. This has been a challenging year for everyone. This year the MD stream has adapted to the remote world and dove into learning more in depth about the latest research in our field (ex. COVID-19 diagnostics) as well as focusing more on how to work with data and software tools relevant to our field. I will soon start the process of reflecting on our stream’s research progress this year and planning out our research goals for next year. My number one goal for the spring is to maintain a strong community in our research stream through the use of Slack, weekly small group project meetings and our larger class meeting on Zoom, and the support of our wonderful peer mentors. In the spring, the peer mentors and I will focus on giving you a strong foundation in molecular biology techniques relevant to our lab through use of interactive virtual lab simulations and other resources. We will guide you through reading and interpreting relevant literature in our field. You will also work on developing your own research proposal that fits into the context of our stream’s research. I am hopeful that we will be back in the lab at some point not too far into next year. Regardless of what happens in the spring and what stream you choose, if you stay with FIRE, you will get the opportunity to become involved in an exciting research field, collaborate with your peers, and develop your science communication skills. The Molecular Diagnostics peer mentors and I look forward to welcoming you to our stream next spring!


Hello, FIRE students! I am Thanicha, the Research Educator for the Sustainability Analytics stream. This stream focuses on answering environmental policy questions with data analytics. I am especially excited about the upcoming semester as we will continue our collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)! We are truly interdisciplinary as we work with big data in atmospheric science, biology, and economics. You will be trained to visualize data and maps by using R from scratch. You do not need a background in programming.  Although training is likely to be in a remote environment, I am working hard to make the class as interactive and immersive as possible. I plan to open the lab as an option for those who would like to interact and enjoy the camaraderie in-person. Regardless, we will learn and have fun together while trying to understand relevant policy questions. If you are considering a career that involves data analytics or looking for an intellectually stimulating hobby (as data is part of everyday life), please consider joining our stream!


Dear FIRE120 Students, I am Müge Karagöz, the research educator for FIRE Simulating Particle Detection (SPD). I, your Peer Research Mentors (PRM), and our SPD mascot, the Chameluon (not a typo, a physics joke), will be delighted to see you as a part of our 2021 team. In SPD, we delve into the magical world of experimental high energy particle physics (HEP), from its quest for fundamental answers about nature, to its complicated cutting-edge technology. We analyze simulated data of complicated detectors to be commissioned in the near future at CERN, in Switzerland. We use various data visualization tools (in C++ and Python), and collaborative coding platforms (GitHub), and many other tools that will give you the transferable skills HEP is famous for. 2020 has been challenging globally. It is fair to say that SPD has been affected by the obstacles that it presented. In 2020, I improved my lab space (even added a new chess set), only to see its door close indefinitely. I am grateful to my SPD PRMs and students who bore with me in the remote world that followed afterwards! In SPD, I incorporate HEP’s international “big experiment” concepts, such as, remote collaboration and community-building, teamwork with leadership and delegation, peer-reviewing and peer-helping, mentoring while fostering independence, and resource-sharing. This year, empowered with communication tools like Zoom and Slack, I have had regular meetings and impromptu working meetings with my students. This, and the other collaborative internet tools helped me sustain my lab’s community in the virtual research setting. I believe in continuous “learn-as-you-go” philosophy based on a solid foundation that relies on constant critical thinking and brain-storming. In SPD, we will all learn together every day we work together. Are you a curious person with stamina? Do you like to challenge your critical thinking and adaptation skills on a constantly moving target that is called “authentic research”? Then, I believe you will find SPD a fun lab to be in, whether virtually or in-person (hoping that the latter will come sooner than later). Currently, I am working on determining additional avenues SPD research can take in 2021, so please come join me and SPD PRMs as we take on new challenges! Best, M. Karagöz


Hello FIRE-120 students. I am Dr. Choi and I am the research educator the Transgenerational Brain Initiative. The projects that my students work on is focused on studying how the experiences of the parent can lead to changes in genes that are turned on or off in the offspring. To study this phenomenon of multi-generation gene regulation, we use the animal model—C. elegans. In the two semesters that the students work in my lab, they learn how to create recombinant genes that will tell us how to turn on genes in specific neurons of this simple worm. In-person work in the lab will not be possible in the spring semester given the current situation. However, I am optimistic that hands-on training that makes FIRE unlike any other science course you may take as an undergrad could resume for the 3rd semester of FIRE. Therefore, the plan for the spring semester is to work on the mastering the theory and principles of several methods of molecular biology and DNA cloning. These techniques and applications are used in nearly all biology labs and are the foundation of the definitive test to detect SARS-CoV-2. Then I hope to put your knowledge of theory into practice in the 3rd semester where you will work on creating transgenes to insert into our model worm. Students who return to be Peer Research Mentors work on more advanced projects such as creating mutant worms using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing in addition to helping train the next class of FIRE-TBI students. The skills my students learn in my lab also help in other biology courses. Several were able to join other research labs on campus. I have taught this course for five years and many of the students who have graduated (including many that have gone on to grad school and medical school) have told me that their experience in FIRE was the favorite part of their undergraduate experience. I hope that I can be a memorable and interesting part of your undergraduate experience if you are up to the challenge and willing to put in the effort.

Fall 2020 FIRE Semester 3 Student Perspectives

These are quotes from Fall 2020 FIRE Semester 3 students who completed their FIRE experience through exclusively remote research.  We asked them "Why should a FIRE Semester 1 student stick with FIRE even if research laboratory availability might be limited for the Spring of 2021?" and they responded:

I have learned so much from being in my stream, and though I don't plan on pursuing a career related to this stream a lot of the knowledge I have gained has been applicable outside of class (working in a summer internship--and well, understanding research for my other courses, applying to other opportunities, etc.). You don't necessarily need to be in the lab to have a meaningful and fruitful research experience.

If you have already gone through one semester, it is worth is to stick out the next 2. This will help you get ahead in your career and add something to your resume that others don’t!

There are a lot of skills you can learn even without being in the lab. This could also be a great way to prepare yourself for (hopefully) being in the lab during Fall 2021 semester - you could get more familiarity with the concepts and techniques you'll need. You could also polish your research skills and focus more on your research proposal. It was a little hard for me because I was excited about working in the lab, but I do not regret continuing on with FIRE. I was better able to have a thorough grasp on every concept we learned. Continuing on with FIRE is a good choice because you can get general education credits but you also build connections with your professors and peers and have an immersive research environment.

FIRE isn't just about the physical resources you have access to, but also about building relationships with your peers and becoming a better researcher, both of which are entirely possible remotely. Specifically with relation to COML, working in the field of computer science gives us the unique privilege to be able to conduct extremely similar research projects from the comfort and safety of our own living spaces, even with limited laboratory availability. Nevertheless, regardless of the stream you plan on joining, being able to take initiative with research as an undergraduate student is an extremely unique opportunity that you should be eager to take part in.

What many new FIRE students don't really grasp in the beginning of FIRE is that FIRE is by no means a one semester or even two semester course. The FIRE prorgam contains so many different opportunities outside of just research lab experience, although a large part. For example, completing the FIRE program is a great addition to your resume, including opportunities such the Summer fellowship, and even possibly becoming a Peer Mentor for your FIRE stream after completing the 3 semesters of the FIRE program. In addition, even while we may not perform as much lab research next spring, it'll be a great opportunity to strengthen skills such as teamwork and communication which will make working (hopefully) in the lab when it opens much more efficient and a better experience!

Even though the inability to perform laboratory techniques in-person is inconvenient, the LABSTER simulations that we did in our class as an alternative were actually very cool and pretty accurate/detailed to help the experience be more realistic. However, beyond just the laboratory experience, there are so many other positive skills and experiences you can gain in FIRE such as collaboration skills, fostering a positive and close relationships with your research educator. In addition, the bulk of the learning really comes from the work you do online such as reading through Modules on lab techniques, journal articles, listening to guest speakers, class discussions, and making progress with your research projects in your teams.

You can still learn the basics of whatever you were going to do in the lab, and form a relationship with the research educator to earn letters of recommendation.

A FIRE Semester 1 student should stick with FIRE since regardless of the current situation and limited lab space available, the FIRE allows students to learn many different content and aspects of research and other skills, and I believe it is vital to involve with FIRE prior to graduation. There are many new skills students would learn from FIRE that not other classes would teach students these skills.

FIRE is an experience that I wouldn't trade, despite limited laboratory availability for the Spring of 2021 because of the long-lasting effects. FIRE has helped me discover future career paths and shaped what I want to do in my future, and it is also something that will look great on my resume and help me with future endeavors. It is also nice to develop a strong relationship with your Research Educator, which is a unique experience because you usually only get to know your professor for 1 semester.

Conducting research online is easier than one may think especially since the timing is very flexible and group meetings can happen outside of lab hours. Overall FIRE is a really good experience that I think you should continue with regardless of the logistics of laboratory availability.

The ability to do mock experiments and learn the real protocols can build fundamental knowledge needed to work in a lab later in life. It can also enrich a student's understanding of how science is conducted and the rigors of research.