• Science Elements podcasts. As much as I love music, I prefer to listen
to these short weekly podcasts that summarize new articles published in all ACS journals. This is a quick and easy way of discovering
amazing science. ACS also provides links to the original articles for
when you want to learn more. You can subscribe to Science Elements on i Tunes or access the broadcasts on the ACS website at
• Local/regional/national/international chemistry conferences. I wish
I had attended more of these as I was starting out. I don’t know
of a better way to hear about science and meet scientists. If you
are willing to talk to scientists, they can guide you through more
than just their research. Some of my large decisions were made
immediately following a conversation with a researcher. Go to
www.acs.org/meetings and click on ACS Meeting Locator.
• Internship postings. You might be surprised at the projects that are
available for undergraduate students. Whether it is sponsored by a
university, the National Science Foundation, or another group, an
internship is a great way to explore new research topics and become
personally acquainted with the researchers. Explore these opportunities at www.acs.org/GetExperience.
Please note that these are some resources that I find most
rewarding — but there are many, many other resources that also
provide useful information.
Three Perform supervised research
The courses I took as an undergraduate were excellent, as were
the professors who taught me. Neither the courses nor the labs,
however, were able to convince me that I would love working in
a specific area. This understanding came only as I
began doing guided research with my professors
outside of my normal coursework.
There are research opportunities just waiting
for you to uncover. Some of you may have research
built into your degree curriculum. If you attend
a school like BYU-Idaho, where research is not a
central focus, you may have to knock on a couple
of doors and perhaps even write your own research
or grant proposal. In my experience, professors are
more than willing to have you do the research to
test their constantly forming ideas. My research
started because I was studying in a small room
while two friends discussed their research about a
“superbug”. I asked what they were talking about,
and was instantly pulled into their biochemical
research. I ended up focusing on a side project
determining the rate of oxidative degradation of
beta-carotene (food for the superbug), and later
ended up doing completely different research
designing prototypes and actuators for soft, silicon-based robots. Each research experience taught me
what research topics I liked and disliked.
Once you complete your research project, it is very important
to present at scientific conferences. The knowledge I gained
from performing supervised research fluctuated over time, but
it always peaked during the last two weeks before the conference. Presenting my own research forced me to read more,
experiment more, and make more connections than researching
without presenting. I presented at six conferences, and I wish I
had presented at more.
Four Understand the boundaries
While many things in life have clearly defined boundaries, your
studies should not be one of them. Don’t be afraid of incorporating into your career a thread of biology, physics, engineering,
or even the arts!
I was awarded a 2013 German Academic Exchange Service
(DAAD) scholarship for an internship in Leipzig, Germany. My wife
Kalie and I moved to Germany three days after we were married.
Our three months in Germany taught me that if you want to
research in a particular place or on a specific topic, you can do it!
In August 2013, at the 3rd Transatlantic Frontiers of Chemistry Symposium, held at Kloster Seeon near Munich, we listened
to a lecture from Helmut Schwarz, the president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His theme was “Overcoming
Frontiers in Science”. Paraphrasing his address, nature doesn’t
single out particular divisions of science. A leaf doesn’t decide,
“Your job is done, Chemistry; it is Biology’s turn now.” Science
itself ignores boundaries and frontiers, and so should we.
As you ponder your interests, do not feel limited by the
boundaries of science. Search out the answers to your questions, and learn all you can as you cross back and forth over
those imaginary boundaries. Some occasional critics have “
written off” my soft robot research as being more engineering than
chemistry. They couldn’t see my vision for the robots’ chemical
future, and they ignored the tools I used and skills I learned that
I will use in my chemical future. Boundaries in science only slow
Time to get started
Your future awaits! I am very optimistic that you will find your
own direction for your future work, especially if you keep in mind
your life’s purpose, stay aware of current research and know
leading scientists, get hands-on experience through supervised
research, and dissolve imaginary boundaries in science.
Jonathan Meyers is a recent chemistry graduate from
Brigham Young University-Idaho and soon-to-be graduate
school applicant; he is happy to have a clear vision for his