Hi all, this is a continuation of my first blog post, which I would recommend reading before this one, that you can find here. Finding research is easy (probably not absolutely true, but seems to be true in most cases). Finding good research is hard (I think of good research as having two aspects: being something you have a genuine interest in, and with someone you work well with). I am extremely lucky to have found Andrew and done research for him. I had worked on two different research projects before working for Andrew and I didn’t find the projects particularly interesting, especially compared to what I do now. I was seeking something more in the theoretical side of physics (which is often not an option for undergraduates) and I knew I had interested in particle physics, so I had emailed two different professors with research related to particle physics. One never responded (it happens, they are busy!) and Andrew got back to me after about a week. I met with him and discussed possible projects, and I settled on dark matter constraints through stellar evolution.
I get along great with Andrew. He gives me a lot of freedom when it comes to what I’m doing as far as projects, giving me many possibles routes at the beginning, and even giving me the option to change to something else if I end up not enjoying what I choose. Andrew also gives me particularly close attention compared to other research advisors (at least in my view from what I’ve seen with my friends and their research). I have weekly meetings to discuss research progress with him, and he will even give me what are effectively private lectures on subjects if I ask about them, even if they are only tangentially related to what I am working on. For example, we had a long discussion on Baryogengesis (theory of why there is more matter than antimatter) one day because I asked about it, even though it is only very tangentially relevant for what I am working on. I value this a lot, as I have a lot of curiosity about various topics, especially when they are brought up in papers I read related to my research. I also have a large amount of control over what I choose to do, with Andrew acting more as a guide towards what would be beneficial rather than instructing me as to what I must do exactly.
Personally, I don’t like quitting projects (or things in general). However, if you are not enjoying what you are working on you should always seek out other opportunities. Professors understand; you are an undergraduate, and will not be there forever. I quit two projects before settling on my current work (as I mentioned above) which is definitely out of character for me, but it was the right choice. It is important to recognize when something isn’t for you and make the relevant decisions. As to beginning research, I think the easiest way to get involved is to just start emailing professors. Every project I have been involved with I emailed professors with interest from either reading their papers or seeing them give a talk. So, I would recommend that if you want to find research look at the list of people in your department, see if what they do interest you (I also like to check if they have had undergraduates before, but sometimes this information can be hard to find), and email them explaining who you are and your interest in their research.
I want to be a researcher. So, doing research as an undergraduate is very important to me. If you think you want a career as a researcher, doing undergraduate research is important for getting a feel of what it is like, even if you plan to do research in a different field once you move on after your undergraduate degree.
The featured image on this post is a picture from an event at the Carnegie Science Center that I participated in sharing the joys of particle physics. Below, I’ve attached a graph from my research of the composition of two stars. You can see the model with dark matter the amount of hydrogen decreases much quicker than the star without dark matter, and the amount of helium increases much faster.