Jade Takakuwa

Dimerization of Hsp70 and its role in chaperone function and how it regulates the cellular response to heat
Student, Biology
Tell us a little about yourself and your research project.

My name is Jade Takakuwa and I am an undergraduate majoring in Biology. I am in the Early Entry Master’s program and am excited to start working on my master’s degree next spring. I am an older, non-traditional student and started as a post-baccalaureate before transitioning to a full-time undergraduate student. I am originally from Honolulu, Hawaii but I have spent a good deal of my life in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I joined Dr. Andrew Truman’s lab in January 2019 and have been working with a team of graduate and undergraduate students on various projects. The Truman lab focuses on molecular chaperones that fold or degrade proteins in a cell, specifically a chaperone called Hsp70 that refolds proteins that have been denatured by heat. I have been studying the dimerization of Hsp70 and its role in chaperone function and how it regulates the cellular response to heat.

How did you first find out about undergraduate research opportunities at UNC Charlotte?

I first found out about undergraduate research through friends who were working in research labs at the time. Research sounded like something I would be interested in and would be a great experience that could help strengthen my skills and prepare me for a number of possible career paths. I started looking up information on the Biology department website and found out which professors had research labs. I read the summaries of their research projects and sent emails to professors whose work I found interesting. I also spoke with professors of some of the classes I enjoyed and asked if I could join their labs. After a long search and a lot of persistence, I found a good fit in Dr. Truman’s lab.

How has your research experience prepared you for your next goals or career?

I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but research has changed my life in so many ways! It has created so many new opportunities and really helped me narrow down my career aspirations. After returning to college, I was unsure what career I would be most suited for or even interested in. After taking a variety of classes, I knew I enjoyed Biology, but only had a vague idea of a possible future in the field. I also felt that classes prepared me for theory, but I was lacking in any practical experience. Research really gave me a lot of exposure to techniques that are used in both academic labs and in industry jobs, and I feel better prepared as I take my next steps into graduate school. As part of a research lab, I was able to have more one-on-one interactions with professors and students that were farther along in graduate studies, which gave me valuable insights into possible careers.

What advice would you give students who are interested in pursuing undergraduate research and what would you say to a student who says, "research is not for me"?

I would tell interested students to start thinking about what they would like to study and what field fascinates them the most. Biology is a very wide subject that allows for a lot of different interests and personalities. There is a place for people who love wildlife and the outdoors; for people who love doing experiments and focusing on disease or the human body; or for people who love unraveling genomes of newly discovered organisms. If they loved a particular class and have a good relationship with the professor, see if the professor has a research lab and would allow undergraduates to volunteer for a semester or take some research credits.

If a student is interested in science but thinks that research is not for them, I would still highly encourage them to give it a try! Even if they don’t plan to go into a research-based career, they can still learn valuable skills that can be transferred to any career. Research allows you to hone your critical thinking and problem-solving skills and allows you to practice teamwork and communication with both professors and peers. Everyone can learn something new and bring something unique to the table! 

What is one thing that you learned about yourself from this research experience?

One of the great things about my experience in research is that it has really helped build my confidence. I learned I could achieve more than I originally thought possible, which makes me feel optimistic about my future. I started from a completely different place in life than most people and from an entirely different academic background, but research has made me feel like there is a place where my skills are valued and can be used to help people and expand human knowledge. Research really pushes me and challenges me in a lot of ways, and I look forward to learning more and improving my skills as I continue my research path