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UC San Diego Announces 2021 Undergraduate Library Research Prize Winners

Library recognizes students for leveraging research materials and services to produce groundbreaking research

The UC San Diego Library’s 2021 Undergraduate Library Research Prize (ULRP) honorees. From left to right: Jacqueline (Jackie) Villasenor, Rachel Tam, Shruti Magesh and Joseph Tsai.

Four UC San Diego students have been selected to receive the annual Undergraduate Library Research Prize (ULRP), an awards program that enriches the undergraduate student experience at UC San Diego by promoting innovative and collaborative research. Now in its 15th year, this annual award recognizes the outstanding scholarly work of undergraduate students who demonstrate critical thinking, problem-solving and strategic use of Library services, resources, and expertise in support of the university’s mission.

"The Undergraduate Research Prize gives us an opportunity to celebrate our students’ creative use of Library materials as they push themselves into the upper echelon of cross-disciplinary academic research,” said David Artis, Dean of Undergraduate Research Advancement and Director of the Undergraduate Research Hub at UC San Diego. “During the pandemic, the Library maintained its vigilance and successfully ensured our students received the support necessary to continue their studies—something the entire Triton community is grateful for.”

Cash awards are given at the end of spring quarter each year—$1,000 and $500 for first and second place, respectively. To be considered for the prize, students must be nominated by a faculty member and must participate in either the annual UC San Diego Undergraduate Research Conference (hosted by the Undergraduate Research Hub), or in other university programs that foster and recognize student research and scholarship.

“This past pandemic year introduced new challenges to our students in terms of maintaining their scholarship and continuing to make progress on their research,” said Dani Cook, Associate University Librarian, Learning and User Experience at the Library. “In the Library, we also changed our strategies to make sure our students maintained access to the support and materials necessary to conduct the groundbreaking research for which UC San Diego is known. I would like to congratulate this year’s winners on their excellent research and perseverance during this challenging year.”

The UC San Diego students receiving the 2021 Undergraduate Library Research Prize are Rachel Tam, a second-year John Muir College transfer student majoring in oceanic and atmospheric sciences with a minor in climate change studies; Shruti Magesh, a first-year human biology major from Revelle College; Joseph Tsai, a third-year molecular and cell biology major at Earl Warren College; and Jacqueline Villasenor, a pre-med transfer student at John Muir College.

First Place Winners

Rachel Tam

Rachel Tam won first place for her research project, “Seasonal Cycle of Arctic Cloud Cover based on AVHRR Satellite Data.” Under the mentorship of Professor Amato Evan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Tam’s research focused on studying the relationship between the Arctic Sea ice melt and cloud cover changes, starting with long-term satellite records of Arctic clouds. Her clever methodology in approaching literature searches caught the judges’ eyes at the 2021 Undergraduate Research Symposium, which ultimately led to her taking home first place in the ULRP.

Tam is a second-year Muir College transfer student majoring in oceanic and atmospheric sciences with a minor in climate change studies. While comfortable conducting research for writing classes, Tam found researching topics she was less familiar with challenging. She reached out to Earth and Marine Sciences Librarian Amy Butros, who introduced her to the Library Guides on these topics. Butros also explained the different types of information resources for climate and atmospheric sciences and how each could support Tam’s primary, secondary and tertiary research.

“Through this experience, I have learned to use Library resources, varying from subject-specific databases to subject librarians, and have honed the process of identifying, tracking and connecting the sub-questions under the umbrella research question,” said Tam. “With this project ongoing and as I continue my research career as a graduate student in the near future, I will take the efficient and organized practices developed from this experience forward to find valuable answers to the unknown questions in the climate field.”

Shruti Magesh

Shruti Magesh, a first-year human biology major from Revelle College, also won a first-place prize for her work on, “Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Disparities in COVID-19 Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” which was primarily rooted in literature research. Under the mentorship of Weg M. Ongkeko, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the UC San Diego Department of Surgery, Shruti’s research identified over 14,000 possible articles on the topic, which, through the use of Library databases and guides, she was able pare down to 69 studies that met the defined criteria for inclusion and analysis. 

Shruti took advantage of the Systematic Review Service to help understand the methods and procedures associated with meta-analyses and systematic reviews. She identified methods to analyze the results including bringing in additional data from external sources.

“The resources, databases, guides and tools offered by the Library have fostered a positive environment that has challenged me to grow and develop my intellectual and creative abilities,” Magesh said. “The Library has played an immeasurable role in influencing my trajectory as a researcher, and will surely play a large role in my work in the years to come.”

Second Place Winners

Joseph Tsai

Nominated by Dr. Ongkeko, Joseph Tsai took second place for his project, “Characterization of the age-associated intratumoral microbiome in pancreatic adenocarcinoma,” a research project investigating the interactions between the human microbiome and the pathogenesis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PAAD).

“The Library as both a physical and virtual resource has been critically instrumental to both my research process, as well as my development as a fledgling researcher,” Tsai said. His use of the Library resources included accessing databases and scholarly articles to attending Library-hosted classes. In doing so, Tsai was able to find critical research articles in both PubMed and Journal Citation Reports, which helped inform his hypothesis. He also leveraged the Library’s Data and GIS Lab for computational analysis and used the Ask-A-Librarian service to seek advice on which tests to use for his research.

Tsai, a third-year molecular and cell biology major at Warren College, went on to state, “Because of the digitization of materials and the vast amount of online resources, the Library remained an integral part of my research process throughout the pandemic. With just a connection to the VPN, millions of resources quickly become available at my fingertips. The Library as both a physical and virtual resource has shown me immense value in this project and more broadly in my pursuit of a career in research.”

Jacqueline (Jackie) Villasenor

Jacqueline (Jackie) Villasenor, a pre-med transfer student at Muir College mentored by Marshall College Provost Leslie J. Carver, also took second place for her research paper entitled, “Disparities in Access to Health Care for Autism in the Latino Community.” She drew upon a variety of Library resources, such as online databases as well as a variety of search strategies.

Villasenor’s project examined the disparities in the Latinx community in accessing resources related to diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including various aspects leading to how this access correlates to socioeconomic and cultural factors. Her research concluded with goals for addressing these problems such as increasing the coverage of insurance allowing screening for developmental disabilities in infants.

As Provost Carver noted, “Jackie made exceptional use of Library resources for her project. She absolutely could not have navigated this paper without the help of the Library and its resources. She conducted several literature searches and learned how to progressively add to the literature she found for her project by consulting citation indexes to see what other cited papers she had already found. I think she’s exceptionally deserving of this prize.”

The Undergraduate Library Research Prize is co-sponsored by the UC San Diego Library, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and UC San Diego Alumni. For more information about the Undergraduate Library Research Prize, visit lib.ucsd.edu/ulrp.

About the UC San Diego Library

The UC San Diego Library, ranked among the nation’s top 25 public academic libraries, plays a critical role in advancing and supporting the university’s research, teaching, patient care, and public service missions. The world-renowned research for which UC San Diego is known starts at the UC San Diego Library, which provides the foundation of knowledge needed to advance cutting-edge discoveries in a wide range of disciplines, from healthcare and science to public policy and the arts.


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