CURF #2 The research journey

With the warm weather arriving this week, its finally feeling like spring, and it’s crazy to think we are already over halfway through the semester. While the start of the semester feels like yesterday, thinking back on when I first started in lab seems ages ago, likely because so much has happened and I have learned so much during my time in lab.

I first joined the O’Donnell lab as a lab aide, making media and stock solutions and completing the other chores in the lab. In this role, I got to learn the lab dynamic and gain foundational skills. The lab community was wonderful and I was fascinated by the research topics, as I had always wondered about how the various proteins I learned about in class got to where they need to go. I loved being in lab and after a semester, I transitioned to research.

To those looking for research opportunities, I would recommend looking through the faculty pages of whatever department you are interested in and see what labs interest you. Is there a particular field you are interested in? Or a model system you would like to work with? Or maybe there is a particular protocol or instrument that the lab uses that you think is fascinating? I also think it’s a good sign if the lab already has other undergraduates doing research, as this means they are willing to take on undergraduate researchers and mentor them. Then, you can email the professors whose work you found interesting, being sure to explain what you found interesting about their work. If you don’t want to cold-email professors, look into the FER program here at Pitt, which pairs students with labs for a semester. Or look into programs during the summer that are targeted to undergrads with limited research experience. These are really wonderful because you can usually meet other undergraduates who are passionate about research as well through the program events. Pitt has so many research opportunities, it is hard not to find something that fits your interests and skills.

To students who are just starting research, I would say that the start of working in a lab can have a steep learning curve, and not to become discouraged. Mistakes will happen. I also think its always better to ask a question if you are unsure, even though asking questions can sometimes be intimidating. Asking and confirming is always better than not asking and making an error. Also, be sure to write everything you can down. This will help with memory and also working out understanding. Plus good lab notebook technique. There will be rough patches, especially in the beginning, since you haven’t yet gotten into the rhythm of the lab and don’t know the specific dynamic of the lab. Be patient and always open to help. I found that I was given the best opportunities by just being present and willing to help in any way I could.

Looking to the future, I plan to pursue a PhD with the long-term goal of becoming a professor and continuing conducting research and teaching. Research is central to each of these goals and I hope to continue growing and learning as a student and researcher.

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