SURF fellow Kathy Tavakoli

Biology major Kathy Tavakoli (’16) loves research. Even while taking eighteen credits every semester, going to the lab is an escape, a relief from the other stress of school.  She spent last summer indulging in her love of research in the lab of Dr. Keykavous Parang at the School of Pharmacy, and she received funding to do it through OURCA’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).


Kathy making the synthesized peptide sample ready by removing protecting groups.

SURF is OURCA’s most intensive and comprehensive program. It supports a group of undergraduate students who are pursuing individual research and creative activity in conjunction with full-time faculty mentors. The ambitious fellows also gather twice every week for ten weeks of professional development workshops and faculty research seminars. Kathy spent the summer with SURF researching peptide synthesis as a drug delivery system in cancer cells.

This project was the first she designed entirely herself, down to designing peptides that have never existed before. The goal of the project is to use the peptides as a tool. Kathy narrowed down individual elements in past peptides to find the most promising results. This project is the beginning of what could be a fifteen-year process that ends with practical use in cancer patients.


Kathy checking the sample to observe the precipitate.

Kathy has been working in Dr. Parang’s lab for over a year, after having been referred to him from another faculty member. She read some of his work from the past five years and asked to join his team. Kathy says one of her favorite parts of working there is that the lab is so big, with numerous professors, post-docs, and graduate and undergraduate students. It’s a great incubator for building connections and learning the professional environment. Through SURF this past summer, Kathy got the opportunity to receive funding for work in the same lab in which she had started and to run her own experiment. She was accepted to the master’s program at UCI and began work there in September. OURCA looks forward to hearing amazing things from Kathy!

If you’re a student and would like to learn more about SURF or about other ways to fund your own research or creative project, head over to OURCA’s site to see all of our funding opportunities!