Undergraduate Research Positions with the School of Pharmacy!



Applications are requested from students with computer programming experience for interesting and challenging research opportunities in the Laboratory of Pharmacometabolomics and Companion Diagnostics. We are a laboratory that utilizes large scale data acquisition strategies to understand the variability of human response to medication.

In this regard, we have urgent need for someone with experience in programming languages such as Java, C++ and/or python to help write software components to streamline the data analysis and data visualization processes. Additional training will be provided to the right candidate to complement their existing expertise. The candidate will have the opportunity to learn the concepts of personalized medicine and analytical strategies such as mass spectrometry and NMR in clinical and translational research settings and gain invaluable experience in applying computer programming techniques to streamline these processes.

Furthermore, during the course of this clinical and translational research training, the candidate will also get an opportunity to interact very closely with the physicians, surgeons and pharmacists of VCU. This position is ideal for someone who wishes to pursue careers in medicine and health IT.

Interested students should contact the project PI, Dr. Dayanjan Wijesinghe – Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Sciences at wijesingheds@vcu.edu

Before you contact someone about a research opportunity you may want to put together the following information to provide to them:

  • Your year of study (Freshman, sophomore, etc.)
  • Your major
  • Your current GPA
  • A brief summary of your background, which indicates any research-related courses you have taken, and any research experience you have already had.
  • A statement that talks about your career goals, why you want to participate in research with this specific faculty member, and what you would bring to the experience.


Nominate your Faculty Mentor for an Undergraduate Research Mentorship Award!


Are you a VCU undergraduate student who is currently conducting research under an awesome faculty member at VCU?  Do you know a professor or faculty member who goes above and beyond to create research opportunities for undergraduate students?  If so, nominate them for a UROP Faculty Mentorship Award so we can acknowledge their contributions!

Go to:   http://go.vcu.edu/uropmentoraward to submit a statement of no more than 500 words explaining why the chosen nominee deserves an outstanding mentorship award. Please use specific examples that detail your nominee’s contribution to undergraduate research at VCU.  The deadline for submissions is April 4th.

Consider the following criteria in your nomination:

• How has the nominee enhanced the skills related to undergraduate research in their discipline?

• How has the nominee expanded the knowledge base of student researchers?

• How has the nominee assisted undergraduates in their engagement with research?

• How has the nominee guided students in the acquisition of research presentation skills?

• What lasting impression has the nominee made on students’ future academic and professional plans?

Email Herb Hill at hhill@vcu.edu with any questions.

Call for Abstracts: VCU Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity!

Organized by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and part of VCU Student Research Weeks, the annual Undergraduate Poster Symposium is a wonderful opportunity for students to present their research endeavors to their academic peers, members of the VCU faculty, community members, and friends and family.  All undergrads from every discipline are encouraged to present and attend.  Presentations may be for completed research projects, completed papers, or research in progress.

Projects involving creative work such as prose or poetry, performances, and artwork will be considered for acceptance if they are part of a scholarly project undertaken by the student.  We are currently accepting poster abstracts up until the deadline of March 22nd, 2016.  All abstracts should be submitted to http://go.vcu.edu/uroppostersubmit

After students are notified of their acceptance, we will accept electronic file submission of their posters.   Note: We hold poster workshops Jan. – Mar. and we are now able to print research posters free of cost to our students!

Abstracts should include: Name/Major of student, Name/Dept. of Faculty Mentor, Title of research Project, Brief description of research project.  All inquiries to hhill@vcu.edu

symp 2016

Two VCU students awarded Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowships

Featured photoSarah Izabel, left, and Lizette Carrasco, right, pictured in their labs at Sanger Hall.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University students will spend the summer immersed in research after earning prestigious undergraduate research fellowships.

Lizette Carrasco, a junior biology major, and Sarah Izabel, a sophomore psychology major and Honors College student, have been accepted to the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

VCU student researchers also earned EXROP fellowships in both 2014 and 2015.

This is the first time VCU students have received two slots in the program, which aims to support underrepresented groups in the next generation of scientists. The students will attend a conference with other researchers before spending 10 weeks this summer in a full-time, mentored research experience in the laboratory of a Howard Hughes investigator at research institutions.

“HHMI is synonymous with research excellence. To have VCU put besides those letters is a big deal,” said Sarah Golding, Ph.D., director of undergraduate research in the Department of Biology. “They get to see what that institution looks like, meet other students and work with first-class scientists.”

Sarah Izabel and her IMSD mentor, Jeffrey Dupree, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology in the School of Medicine.
Sarah Izabel and her IMSD mentor, Jeffrey Dupree, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology in the School of Medicine.

The students are no strangers to labs and research. At VCU, Carrasco and Izabel are taking part in the Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity, which matches underrepresented students with campus researchers.

Izabel studies how degeneration of neurons relates to diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, with Jeffrey Dupree, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology in the School of Medicine. During the summer, Izabel will work in a lab at the University of California, San Francisco, focused on another part of the neuron.

“I’ll still be studying the neuron, but instead of the axon I’m studying the dendrites,” Izabel said. “I’m excited to work with different systems, different approaches. As a nontraditional student it’s sometimes hard to fit in, but being able to spend time in the laboratory with not only like-minded people, but also older students, is a benefit of doing research.”

Lizette Carrasco in the lab of mentor Kimberly Jefferson, Ph.D.
Lizette Carrasco in the lab of mentor Kimberly Jefferson, Ph.D.

At VCU, Carrasco conducts research on a bacteria’s ties to vaginosis and preterm birth with Kimberly Jefferson, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine. This summer she will travel to conduct immunology research at Yale University.

Everybody thinks of an older person in a lab coat, pipetting away, but the faces of scientists are changing now.

“We share the similarity that we’re all underrepresented in the sciences, which is one of those things that brings us together. I find that very important to have that community of like-minded people,” Carrasco said of VCU’s IMSD program. “Everybody thinks of an older person in a lab coat, pipetting away, but the faces of scientists are changing now. Hopefully I can be reflective of the changing face of science, and scientists.”

The students were nominated by Allison A. Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor and assistant director of the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity. Johnson is able to nominate students for the EXROP competition as a member of HHMI’s Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science program.

VCU’s research training programs give underrepresented students and faculty a platform for discovery

Featured photo

Last November, Virginia Commonwealth University senior Delisa Clay was one of the 96 students out of 2,035 picked to give an oral presentation of her research at the 15th Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Seattle. That alone was huge.

And then she won “Best Oral Presentation” for her talk, “Defining Cellular Dynamics and Biomechanical Forces During Wound Healing in Xenopus laevis Embryos.” Only one other VCU student has won an oral presentation award at the event in the past five years. It was a big deal for Clay — and for VCU.

The competition level is high for this award. Students are judged based on their research, presentation skills and how well they answer questions about their work. “The quality of the presentations students are giving is way above what we expect normal undergrads to do,” said Sarah Golding, Ph.D., instructor in the Department of Biology at the College for Humanities and Sciences and director of the undergraduate component of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development program.

Clay’s research is a result of her work as a scholar with IMSD. It’s one of several research training programs within VCU’s Center on Health Disparities aimed at increasing the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds obtaining a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

“We want the best and brightest people to be doing scientific research and solving biomedical problems,” said Joyce Lloyd, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of education for the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. She’s also co-director of CoHD’s postdoctoral program, Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award, with Paul Fisher, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. “If you’re only capturing part of the population, then you’re not going to get all the best and the brightest.”

Delisa Clay

Discovery through diversity

There is a belief that when you have diversity, science itself is enriched in the broad sense.

Just as diversity is said to foster a more creative workforce highly adept at problem-solving, diversity in science is critical for discovery and innovation. “There is a belief that when you have diversity, science itself is enriched in the broad sense,” said Louis De Felice, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and IMSD program director. “Diversity itself is something worth pursuing in its own right. It has scientific benefits.”

However, science still suffers from a predominantly homogenous pool of researchers. Based on a 2013 National Science Foundation study, underrepresented minorities make up less than 10 percent of those pursuing doctorates in science and engineering disciplines — a percentage that has flattened since 2000.

To help balance the disproportion, the National Institutes of Health funds a portfolio of grant programs to get underrepresented students into the pipeline for a biomedical research career. Universities across the country have instituted one or more of these grant programs, and VCU is one of only a handful of universities that currently holds funding from five of these grants.

“Underrepresented” is the word best used to describe the students who would qualify for the grants, according to De Felice. Racial ethnicity can play a role, though “underrepresented” expands the parameters to include people who are economically and educationally deprived, and even those with a disability, all of which can express itself as a disadvantage. “When a person applies to the program, they can identify their own definition of being underrepresented,” De Felice said.

First-generation scientist

In the lab, Clay works with African clawed frog embryos. There is a delicate nature to her work. She anesthetizes the embryos, makes a deliberate superficial wound and uses a biosensor to measure the forces across the cells — or how the cells move and behave — during wound healing. “So far my findings suggest that a manipulation of cellular forces may serve as a potential treatment for chronic or slow-healing wounds in patients with a compromised immune system,” she said.

She loves her work. However, when Clay came to VCU, she didn’t understand the basics of research, and she had never even used a microscope. That was OK. Her passion was medicine and she wanted to be a doctor.

As a kid, she watched surgery shows and she thrived at science. There was also family pressure. “In my culture and family, if you’re good at biology and you’re smart, they automatically put you in this box of being a doctor. There are no other options,” said Clay, who grew up in an unstable household and moved around a lot before settling with her grandmother in Virginia. She is the first in her family to go to a four-year university.

It’s common for underrepresented students to not have exposure to research careers, and they often don’t see people who look like them in these careers, according to De Felice. “They head straight to medicine because that is what they know or have been told is the best way to make it,” he said. “But if you scratch a little bit, you realize a lot of them are scientists and what they like is science.”

That’s what happened to Clay in her sophomore year. She was in a cell biology class, and her professor started asking questions about the future. What are you going to do when you graduate? What are your options if you don’t get into medical school?

Read the rest of this article at VCU News!

Call for Student Presenters: VCU Diversity Scholars in Research Week!



The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at VCU is sponsoring the second annual Diversity Scholars in Research Week.  This event will be Feb. 22-25, 2016. If you are interested in participating the Student Poster Exhibition, where students display posters of their original research please fill out the application.

Other affiliated partners and sponsors include:  Office of Career Services, Department of African American Studies, Office of Research and Innovation, The Division for Health Sciences Diversity, The Center for Health Disparities,VCU LSAMP, University College, the National Scholarship Office, and the Division of Community Engagement.

Researchers from diverse backgrounds or have research topics in diverse topical areas are encouraged to present. The Poster Exhibition will be held on Wednesday February 24 from 12-2pm in the Student Commons. You will need to be present for at least one hour to present your poster. The deadline for poster submission is Wednesday February 17th.

The link to submit is http://goo.gl/forms/ly4rDTxtyL

The full schedule of the week’s events is as follows:

Monday- Keynote Luncheon 12-1:30pm  VA rooms A-D 

2015 PACME Awardee and VCU Engineering Scholar Dr. Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves

Student Testimonials

Tuesday-Educational Sessions  9am-1pm VA room A and B 

9:00am How to Write Your Personal Statement

9:30am How to Prepare Your Resume for Research

10:00am How to Write Your Personal Statement

10:30am How to Prepare Your Resume for Research

11:00am How to Get Involved in Undergraduate Research

11:30am  How do I get into Graduate School?*

12:00pm How to Get Involved in Undergraduate Research

12:30pm How do I get into Graduate School?*

Wednesday– Poster Exhibition and Research Fair 12-2pm James River Terrace and VA rooms

Thursday- Education Session 9am-1pm Forum Room

10:00am & 10:30am Resume Workshop

11:00am & 11:30am How to Get Involved in Undergraduate Research

12:00pm & 12:30pm Creating Effective Presentations*

1:00pm & 1:30pm Financing Your Research with the National Scholarship Office

For more information, please contact VCU OMSA!



Undergraduate Research positions with Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science


Research opportunities in pharmacogenetics and genomics

We have open undergraduate research positions in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph L. McClay, Ph.D., Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, VCU School of Pharmacy.

A description of the research opportunities are provided below and an application form is attached at the bottom of this posting.

Summary of research themes

Dr. McClay’s program focuses on finding and characterizing genetic biomarkers of psychiatric drug response, in addition to functional characterization of genes associated with psychiatric disorders. Our laboratory in the Robert Blackwell Smith Building on the MCV Campus is well equipped with quantitative and digital PCR instruments, cell culture facilities and quantitative imaging equipment. The Department has recently invested heavily in facilities for genomics, proteomics and metabolomics (massively-parallel, discovery-oriented biological technologies), so we are exceptionally well positioned to conduct research at several levels of biological inquiry. Furthermore, the nature of these efforts requires sophisticated data handling and bioinformatics methods to analyze and interpret these data. Currently we have access to cluster computing and terabytes of storage space for this purpose.

Research projects can focus on wet-lab genomics, computational approaches or combine elements of both. Students should feel free to bring their own ideas to Dr. McClay to discuss feasibility or explore one of three different potential research themes in the laboratory:

  1. Characterization of DNA-binding proteins implicated in psychiatric disorders
  1. Characterization of genes involved in psychiatric drug response
  1. Measuring environmental and drug effects on biological regulation

Methods used in pursuit of these goals may include: Central nervous system cell culture, transgenic rodent studies, DNA and RNA extraction, RNA interference, chromatin immunoprecipitation, Western blotting, quantitative and digital PCR, next-generation sequencing, targeted epigenetics analysis, genome-wide data analysis, tandem mass tag proteomics, liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry metabolomics, multivariate data analysis, pathway analysis, data integration.

Students can volunteer their time or gain independent study credit hours. Please send your completed application form and a statement of interest to jlmcclay@vcu.edu.

Pharmacotherapy Research Assistant Application