undergraduate research

A laptop computer with the screen open. A coffee cup to the left of the computer and a stack of scientific magazines to the right.

—from the PI's desk

No matter if your long-term career goals include research, medicine, or using your STEMM degree primarily for science communication, policy, or another direction, participating in an undergrad research experience is a unparalleled opportunity. This is in no small part due to the personal and professional development you gain from the exposure to in-depth, experiential learning--especially one that takes places over the course of a summer.

In addition to learning new research skills, communicating your results, and making a discovery to solve a problem or answer a question, you have the opportunity to earn a recommendation letter to support future applications for grad, medical, or professional school, and graduate fellowships.

However, if you are early in your undergrad career, you may not need that letter until a few years after your summer research experience. Sure, you could come back to your mentor after that time and request a recommendation, but that approach has some major disadvantages. Most importantly, the more time that passes between when you leave the lab and when you ask for a recommendation letter, the fewer the specific details about your strengths and successes your mentor is likely to remember—and it’s those specific details that can turn a strong letter into an epic one.

 A list of 10 things that are split between two columns. The first column lists 1. Fatigue. 2. Rewards. 3. Frustration. 4. Elation. 5. Hofstadter's Law. The 2nd column lists 6. New and deeper connections. 7. Incomprehension. 8. Personal growth. 9. Feeling like a real researcher. 10. Resenting the return of the semester.

— from the Lab Manager's bench

For some undergrads, this summer will be spent lounging on the beach reading and hanging out with friends. Days will be spent blissfully sleeping until a parent annoyingly insists that it’s time to get up and do something.

But alas that’s not for you.

a sandy beach

—from the Lab Manager's bench

Should I stay, or should I go?

For most researchers, working in the lab over a holiday break is somewhat different from working in the lab during the rest of the year. For example, if an experiment has flexibly, it can be started or stopped when it's convenient for the researcher instead of planned around seminars, classes, and campus parking issues.

In addition, some researchers take a vacation, adopt unconventional work hours, or hide in their office to work on a manuscript and only visit the lab to search for inspiration, a snack, or a temporary distraction.

12
Feb

Your Guide for Considering a Gap or Personal Year

—from the Lab Manager's bench and the PI's desk

Exploring the Process

Figuring out if you should take a year off between finishing your undergrad experience and enrolling in a graduate, medical, or professional program isn't always an easy path. So, if you're feeling stressed out about the uncertainly of it all, know that it's part of the process. Deciding what to do, wondering if taking a break will be worth it, if you should even consider it, (or feeling frustrated because a gap year wasn't part of your 10 -year plan) is stressful.

20
Aug

10 Things to Expect Your First Semester of Research

A gloved finger holding a microfuge tube and a pipette tip being placed in the tube

—from the Lab Manager's bench

Even if you have previous lab experience from a high school or college lab class, the first few weeks of a new research experience in a professional research lab will have its challenges, surprises, and likely be quite different from what you're expecting.

06
Apr

10 Pro-Tips to Wrap up Your Spring Research Semester

A list of 10 Pro-Tips to wrap up the Spring Semester in a single list on a chalkboard graphic. They are 1. Finish Strong. 2. Discuss what you won't complete. 3. Write a solid report. 4. Complete notebook. 5. Label everything. 6. Clean up before you go-go. 7. Lock down future schedule. 8. Ask for papers. 9. Thank everyone. 10. Leave contact information.

—from the PI's desk and the Lab Manager's bench

The close of the spring semester brings thoughts of lounging on the beach with a good book, hanging out with friends, or starting an exciting summer internship. In other words, all the things that will make your summer fun and enjoyable. However, don’t let your enthusiasm for the beginning of summer distract you from wrapping up some key tasks in the lab.

Pages