The Power of Undergraduate Research

Kelsey Hafer (photo by Steve Williams)

There’s nothing like an undergraduate research project to challenge a student. Animal bioscience (now veterinary and biomedical sciences) major and Schreyer Scholar Kelsey Hafer can attest to that. “I heard from a lot of people that completing an honors thesis could be really difficult if you don’t start early.”

Hafer began her undergraduate research as a sophomore, and she’s glad she did. “There have been quite a few changes over time. You start one direction in research, it doesn’t work, you turn around and start in another. It can be challenging.”

Hafer, now a senior, has been working in the lab of K. Sandeep Prabhu, assistant professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, since her sophomore year.

“We’ve been looking at omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish oil,” says Hafer. “Our research examines the metabolites into which a particular omega-3 breaks down in an attempt to understand how these metabolic products work in the human body as anti-inflammatory agents. We’re interested in determining if there is a single metabolite that is especially effective in producing positive health effects that could be potentially concentrated and used in lieu of omega-3 fatty acids as a better treatment compound for people.”

Hafer will graduate this spring and has already been accepted into the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She credits her undergraduate research as a critical element in her success as a student.

“I think it has really given me opportunities I would have never gotten in the classroom,” she says. “I’ve learned so many different things. There is really nothing like picking a topic and going at it in depth. And it looks really good on grad school applications. During the interview at Penn they asked me a lot about my undergraduate research.”

In addition to completing her honors thesis, Hafer’s research will be part of a larger paper that the lab seeks to publish in a peer-reviewed journal.