Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted… I managed to misplace the link, and my password, and you know how school catches up to you and you don’t even realize it until it’s too late already. >.<
Well just a few weeks ago I got a position as a research assistant in Dr. Peter Z. Qin’s laboratory in the Organic Chemistry Wing here at USC. I’ll admit, as a science major I don’t have a terribly great amount of research experience – practically none – so I’m really excited about working in the lab! For those of you who were like me not too long ago wondering where to start, my advice is to just start emailing professors! That’s pretty much what I did. I asked some of my professors in the Chemistry department if they had room in their labs, or knew of anyone who had space for an undergraduate in their lab. I did a little research (see what I did there?) of my own, looking into various professors’ projects. And then I just sent out emails!
A lot of times, we students see professors as kind of scary, unapproachable people. But that hasn’t been my experience. I never got a flat-out “no” from any of the many, many professors I emailed. Some professors invited me to check back with them in a semester or two to see if space cleared up in their labs, others suggested I take certain classes so that I could understand their research better, and still others recommended that I check with another professor to see if I liked their research. All were inviting and helpful. The only thing about them is that they’re super busy and don’t really have the time to reach out to their students individually; it’s up to you to make first contact!
Now that I’m a member of the group, I still keep in touch with some of the professors who have helped me. One, my old Chem 322a professor, made me promise to come in now and then to tell him what we’ve been working on; he says it’s hard for him to keep abreast with what all the other groups are working on. Another, my old Chem 115a professor, I see now and then in the lab – he claims to recognize me by my hair.
My co-workers are fun, great people. I really like that they see me as a member of the group already, and not just the undergrad underfoot. My mentor, a third-year PhD candidate in Chemistry, is just so full of life – she really challenges the stereotype of the scientist as a stodgy, awkward person. She’s always sharing her pearls of wisdom with me, my favorite of which is “Kenneth, research starts boring, and over time, it becomes… more boring.” I guess I can sort of relate to that already. But between the new environment and the new equipment and the new people, I don’t see it becoming too boring anytime soon. You learn a lot in your lab classes, but actually being in the setting is something entirely new.
Something else my mentor asked me: “Kenneth, is this what you expected it would be like?” In some ways, yes of course. In some ways, absolutely not. But I guess the bottom line is I would never have known if I didn’t try it out, right?