Nina Koyilla

Nina Koyilla

Q: Describe the research you have been involved in. 

Our lab focuses on the field of developmental biology and examining how an ancestral manner of creating body segments differs from a more derived mechanism of body segment development. The route in which we choose to investigate this development is through enhancers, important regulatory elements of a gene. My project revolves around studying how enhancers evolve between species, ridding themselves of certain functions or gaining new ones. To do this I have been building transgenic flies and beetles expressing enhancer-fluorochrome fusions for a gene that plays an important role in the evolution of arthropod segmentation. 


Q: What was the most new, frightening, or surprising part of this research experience?   

I have always been someone who panicked at the sight of any type of bug or insect, so thinking I would be involved in research that required me to work with them was a thought that never crossed my mind. It was strange to think that pests I would have exterminated from my home were now receiving care from me. I hoped that I hid my fear of bugs well from my PI, but she could probably see it all on my face. Now after a little over a year of being in the lab, I find myself caring for my beetles and flies with much ease. 


Q: What skills have you gained from this experience?   

Having to work with a team of other undergraduates has taught me about the importance of communication and collaboration amongst the team to reach a common goal. Doing extensive background research and reading through relevant publications allowed me to refine my scientific paper analysis skills. Even tiring situations such as having to repeat experiments or analyzing hundreds of embryo images because something went wrong teaches me to be more careful and pay attention to details. 


Q: How has your research experience benefitted you on an academic or professional level? 

Presentational speaking skills are a huge and important part of being in academics or a professional setting, whether it is presenting your findings to your teammates or presenting your research at a poster session to others in the science community. I used to lack major confidence when it came to this skill because I was so unsure of myself and my abilities, but that changed upon entering the lab. The weekly presentations on research papers or my progress so far and all the feedback and encouragement I received from Dr. Nagy and my team really pushed me to better my presentational speaking skills. It is still a work in progress, but personally I have seen so much growth especially when it comes to presenting in classes too. 


Q: How has your research experience benefitted you on a personal level?   

My confidence skyrocketed and I feel more empowered than before. It is one of those situations where you grow up watching people do this stuff in TV shows and movies, but now I am one of those people doing research. 


Q: What is one thing you wished you knew about undergraduate research before getting started? 

One mistake can be very costly. Reproducibility is an essential aspect of research, but you never realize how tedious certain experiments and analyses can be until you are the one doing it. Making mistakes is definitely okay, but you have to take note of that and ensure you do not let it happen again. 


Q: What advice would give other students wanting to get started in research? 

Start thinking about it early, so you can have a better idea of what type of research interests you. I got into research late because I did not think it was something I needed to get into ahead of time, but now I wish I did. The earlier you start looking into it, the more likely you are to get into a lab that potentially interests you or switch to one that better aligns with your interests. 


Q: What has been the best part of your research experience? 

The team, everyone I have had the pleasure of working with in the Nagy lab is absolutely wonderful. I really appreciate the welcoming environment and patience. Being part of a team with very mixed experience, makes me less afraid to ask questions when there is confusion. 


Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced with your research experience? 

Being a black woman in STEM. It can be intimidating when I am the only black woman in the classroom or on the research team because I already feel at a disadvantage compared to everyone else. No longer though, as I have learned I cannot let that intimidation stop me from voicing my opinions and challenging others. 


Q: What are your future plans?   

Graduate with a Master’s degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. After that, it is between working for a biotechnology company or studying for and taking the MCAT, in hopes of attending medical school.