Connections are important in any vocation, and especially in research. Only in collaboration and heeding works past and present in one’s field can new research be impactful. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants,” and I believe that encompasses the significance of reaching out to others.
Alum Reach Out
While searching through members in the Brackenridge Fellows community group, one alumnus in particular who sparked my interest was Rohith Palli. I was drawn to reach out to him because he was a Mathematics major as an undergraduate (like me!) and is attending graduate school in a STEM field, which is an aspiration of mine. His work is in biophysics, which seeks to solve problems in biology with methods commonly used in physics, and I am also interested in asking him about that field and life as a graduate student in general. I am still undecided what subfield I would like to attend graduate school in, so I believe this will provide some insight.
My research mentor is Dr. Vladimir Savinov and connecting with him may be one of the greatest mock epics of all time. Flashback to about a year and a half ago; I, a physics major in my second semester, knew how important research experience was in applying to graduate school. So, I anxiously felt like I should begin working on a project, as my suitemate had already begun a project the previous semester. While browsing the Pitt Physics & Astronomy Department website (and understanding nearly nothing about the ongoing projects), I ultimately decided to reach out and schedule a meeting with Dr. Savinov because of how fascinating his listed research interests were and his profile photo was pretty funny (I am not joking: https://www.physicsandastronomy.pitt.edu/people/vladimir-savinov). I got pretty lucky because I only reached out to one faculty member and liked the project I decided to work on, but I recommend for others to meet with multiple faculty members in person and decide which work sounds the most interesting; if you do not enjoy a project once you start working on it, you have no obligation to stick around.
In wanting to continue in an academic/research field, I would like to make connections with senior faculty in said field. Though I am unsure I want to continue in particle physics, I have made connections with researchers from other institutions by attending online presentations (as well as presenting my own project to others). I believe at this stage, the best way to make these connections is through the help of a faculty mentor.