Keep in mind that you should not be afraid to join a lab that
might not have been your first choice, or one that is completely
out of your comfort zone. I initially wanted to work in an environmental chemistry or polymer lab, and I actually ended up in a DNA
nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) lab! Now that’s a change!
So, how did I choose that lab? I sent out e-mails, scheduled
appointments, and spoke with professors in their offices about
the projects they had available. The DNA project I eventually
chose was a collaboration with someone in the department who
was on sabbatical, but I was put in touch with her and received
a copy of her most recent manuscript. I slept on the decision for
a while and realized I could not stop thinking about that manuscript. That is what convinced me to sign up — even though I
knew next to nothing about DNA or NMR.
does not have such a program, your research advisor might be
able to help you apply for external grants, or your department
might have grant money of its own that the administration
would be willing to allot to you. The bottom line is: ask around.
There is also the option of doing research off-campus. My
university has a program that funds students to do research at
graduate institutions, but if your university does not have something similar, there are plenty of universities and government
laboratories across the country that offer research experience
internships (REIs). REIs are typically open to all undergraduates
and simply require the submission of an application. I worked at
the University of Washington for one summer, and it was a fantastic experience! I got my first glimpse of what it is like to live
Research experience is most beneficial when
you are invested in the work you are doing.
Sometimes you may have to start out as a
glorified dishwasher, if that’s what it takes to
get your foot in the door of a research team
whose work fascinates you. But before you
make such a decision, be sure that you will
have the opportunity at some point in the
near future to get enough training to work on
the aspects of the project that interest you.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing
research for years, and I have actually been
working in the same lab, so I have seen firsthand how one’s responsibilities can change
over time. Initially, I worked side by side
with my research advisor for my entire work
schedule, but over time, I saw less and less
of her. After about a year of training me and
watching as I made progress on the project,
she handed control over to me and simply
made herself available to answer questions
or help me troubleshoot. I eventually set my
own schedule and kept her up to date with
my progress. After completing my project at
the beginning of my senior year, I was given
the responsibility of training the new students
who joined the lab.
These experiences working in labs have
taught me that it’s important to work hard to
become a valued member of your lab. If you do
not feel like you are making progress, you might
want to consider working for someone else.
If you need to be earning money while doing
research, take a look around your university.
Some institutions have grant programs for
students, meaning that you can be paid to do
summer research experiences. If your school
Shannen Cravens during her senior-year research project, preparing to run an NMR experiment.
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad