Lessons From My Research Experiences (Part 2)

Laboratory & Research Advice

Lessons From My Research Experiences (Part 2)

In one of my previous blog posts on finding research opportunities as an undergrad, I mentioned that perseverance is key in the search process. A prime example of this was when I began looking for research opportunities after returning to school following my first summer of research ever. I now had a respectable amount of actual experience under my belt, but even then, finding a research position proved to be quite difficult.

I remember browsing the Stanford faculty website every day after classes for a good two months and constantly reading about the different research projects that were being conducted. I sent countless emails to professors asking to meet with them and discuss any potential research assistant openings they might have in their labs. I admit that it was quite discouraging at times, but there’s always a little luck involved in the process and you just have to keep your end goal in mind during these challenging phases of the search process. Eventually, after about two months of emailing and meeting with different professors, I finally found a lab that had an open position that matched my interests.

My time in this lab was unique from all of my other research experiences in that my role was more of a mentee rather than an assistant researcher. My work mainly consisted of meeting with my mentor who trained me to perform animal surgeries, discussed research papers with me, and gave me lessons on nanotechnology (his research area of expertise). You may be wondering why I even accepted this position if I wasn’t going to be actively participating in any research projects. Well, my reasoning behind it was that this position gave me an opportunity to learn about an area that I was fascinated by, from a mentor that was extremely knowledgeable in his work. I got to learn how to do the hands on procedures that were required for nanotechnology experiments and also got to discuss the latest literature in that field as well. From my perspective, I was getting everything I wanted to out of this position and I truly felt that I was learning just as much as (if not more than) I would have, had I accepted a position at another lab.

Ultimately, the major lesson from my time in that lab is: what you get out of an experience is so much more important than your title. I know plenty of students who accepted positions as research assistants and ended up leaving without any valuable lessons from their experience. Don’t turn down a position just because you don’t have a certain title. You may be passing up on a great opportunity to learn a lot from a position that suits you just as well as any other.

As I spent more time with my mentor, I gained more and more confidence in my research skills. By the end of the school year, I left with a true sense of accomplishment and I had succeeded in securing a full time research position at a lab in Houston (my hometown) for the summer. My experience that summer would be when I finally felt like all of the research experience I had worked to accumulate was finally paying off. But, that’s a story for the next blog.