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Posted May 5, 2017

Junk Food Study for the Win

Graduate students wins first place at CSU Research Competition

Graduate student Nidhi Nagar with fellow Cal State East Bay competitors at the annual CSU Research Compeition. Nagar won first place in the Graduate Division for Biological and Agricultural Sciences.
courtesy of Jenny O

Cal State East Bay graduate student Nidhi Nagar has a thing for junk food. Or at least for studying it. And that interest recently earned her first place at the 31st annual California State University research competition held at Cal Poly in late April.

Technically speaking, Nagar’s research focuses on the role of bacterial and bacterial metabolites in the development of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. In simpler terms, she’s studying the effect of junk food on the liver.

“Mine is the first-ever study indicating that the consumption of [a] Western diet and bile acid dysregulation elevates growth of the harmful Desulfovibrionaceae bacterial family [in the liver],” Nagar explains. She also says it’s a condition without a defined medical treatment and that can cause liver cancer.  The project earned her the No. 1 spot in the Graduate Division for Biological and Agricultural Sciences.

But winning the competition isn’t only based on the originality of her study. In order to take first place, Nagar had to present her research and findings and field questions from a panel of judges — abilities she’s been sharpening for months through Cal State East Bay’s Center for Student Research, a campus-wide student development program focused on engagement, learning and success. The CSR provides academic and professional development workshops as well as funding opportunities, so students can spend more time digging into authentic research alongside faculty mentors.

These mentors work closely with students such as Nagar as they embark on self-led journeys that give them skill sets that will benefit them for years to come.

Cal State East Bay Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jenny O, who also serves as interim director of the center, says that in addition to hands-on projects in topics of their choice, students must practice how they will present their results at the annual competition, which brings participants together from all 23 California State University campuses to test their ideas against one another. Each student or team is given 10 minutes to clearly and compellingly present their research in verbal form — a critical asset for success not only in academics, but also in future careers, according to O.  

“For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve done a verbal research presentation,” the professor says. “It’s an incredibly novel experience for students.”

That was certainly true for Nagar.

“I am an introvert,” she says. “It’s hard for me to open up and give a presentation at a statewide competition. The best part of the preparation was [the] dry run sessions because I improved dramatically during each one and my confidence built up.”

And her practice paid off. O says Nagar’s presentation was “phenomenal” and that she “beat out a grad student who works as a researcher at NASA.” The student was so impressed, O explains, he gave Nagar his card and invited her for a personal tour of NASA Ames.

Nagar adds that she also loved meeting and working alongside fellow students, who are all enthusiastic about their research and related projects.

“As Cal State East Bay is known for its student diversity, I met some of the amazingly talented students of different nationalities representing the university along with me in their own fields,” Nagar says. “During these three days, we all developed a great connection, we helped and supported each other during the competition and I feel very fortunate to learn about their research work. I hope we will keep in touch for the rest of our lives.”


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