UT students share experiences in undergraduate research

Angela Kang

During his Gone to Texas address, Karan Jerath told the incoming freshman class the key to success is relentless pursuit. Jerath, who was recently selected for the Forbes Top 30 under 30 list, speaks from experience, as he came to UT with a dream that has blossomed to a much greater reality. 

At a Tier 1 research institution such as UT, undergraduate involvement is highly encouraged as a medium through which students can explore their ideas. The majority of UT students get involved starting their freshman year through programs like the Freshman Research Initiative. 

Jerath, a petroleum engineering sophomore, came to UT with several science fair victories under his belt but wasn’t ready to stop his research just yet. He further developed his invention, an oil spill clean-up device, using feedback from professors who worked on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Jerath said connections made at UT have allowed him to expand his network beyond the 40 Acres. He now communicates regularly with oil companies, such as ExxonMobil and Shell, which want to use his patent-pending device in future oil spills. 

Although his research has mainly been independent, Jerath said his professors have been a great resource for feedback and advice. Every other week, he presents research to professors who have been helping him prepare for his upcoming trip.

STEM students of the freshman class of 2020, such as chemistry major Vishnu Srinivasa, plan to use the same resources Jerath has taken advantage of. 

“The main thing with only taking classes is that it doesn’t simulate what scientists do on a daily basis,” Srinivasa said.  

Srinivasa said he was inspired to pursue his major because of his interest in life sciences and the research that he conducted at a Texas A&M chemical engineering lab, where he studied the effects of different metabolite chemicals on the expression of proteins. Although he said he hopes to focus on protein structure and synthesis, Srinivasa plans to use his four years at UT to study a wide range of STEM fields.

“Undergraduate research is important because it allows one to find out what it’s like to be a professional in a scientific field, and if you don’t like it, you can at least find out what you don’t want to do,” Srinivasa said. 

Biology freshman James Kiraly said his past research experience solidified his passion for biology, which he wants to continue to study at UT. As a high school student doing research at Stanford University, Kiraly studied the neurological reactions of model organisms.

“These kinds of transformative experiences are huge deciding factors in choosing a career, and having the opportunity to continue to test the waters at UT is a privilege that every student should experience,” Kiraly said. 

More than learning about the scientific method, Kiraly said his research helped him learn the importance of teamwork and tenacity.

“You mess up, then you just have to do it again,” Kiraly said. “That’s really important for research. Trust intuition and think through everything, and really plan out what you’re going to do.”

Jerath said he agrees wholeheartedly with this mindset. According to Jerath, even failures can make one a better scientist. In his Gone to Texas speech, Jerath advised students to not hold back because of who they are, where they’re from or what their idea is. 

Jerath said he was shy and insecure growing up, and it wasn’t until he found his passion in petroleum engineering that he realized his own self-value and ability to advance his own dreams into realities. The incoming class of 2020 is larger than ever before, and Jerath said these students have a great collective capacity for change and exploration. 

“You can really make a difference if you just pursue it,” Jerath advised the freshman class. “You need to take a risk at this age. If you fail now, that’s completely fine and you can just get back up.”