The Project That Made Me a Researcher: (No?) Lab Coat Required

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project That Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Jalisha shares her story.

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Tons of research is conducted in the Psychology/Neuroscience building, but you seldomly see anyone wearing a lab coat!
Tons of research is conducted in the Psychology/Neuroscience building, but you seldom see anyone wearing a lab coat!

White lab coats. As a freshman in high school, I believed these to be the quintessential markings of a true researcher. My transition into the world of research, then, occurred during the summer after my first year of high school, when I wore my very own lab coat for the first time.

That summer, I participated in the Research and Engineering Apprenticeship Program, a program charged with the mission of encouraging young minorities to pursue careers in STEM fields. I was assigned to work with a microbiology professor in her lab, where I would assist with research on the presence of harmful bacteria in store-bought lunchmeat. I had nothing more than my high school biology experience for credentials, but with my white lab coat on, I felt prepared for anything. Continue reading The Project That Made Me a Researcher: (No?) Lab Coat Required

Correspondent Convos: What are your research challenges?

Correspondent_Convos_IconYou’ve probably heard that research is more of a marathon than a sprint. That’s definitely true — Every independent project involves thorough planning and lots of stamina.  But since we’re on the subject of analogies, it’s also true that research is an obstacle course.  Think about it: There are challenges built into the research process, and sometimes they’re impossible to avoid.  PCUR gets real about these roadblocks in our second Correspondent Convo.  Watch below to learn which struggles are most common, and which strategies can help you reach the finish line.

— Melissa Parnagian, Chief Correspondent

Correspondent Convos: Why do you enjoy research?

Correspondent_Convos_IconAs the semester rolls on, it can be difficult to get excited about your research projects or independent work.  You may be tempted to view an upcoming assignment as just another addition to your busy schedule – but that line of thinking zaps your energy before you even start.  Now is a good time to remember the things you enjoy about research.  And yes, there are things you enjoy about research.  Watch PCUR weigh in on the most exciting moments of independent work, and make sure to stay pumped for your next project.

— Melissa Parnagian, Chief Correspondent

Asking for Help: A Question of Foolish Pride?

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While pride might not necessarily cause us to build lavish palaces as some of our ancestors did, it could have other not-so-subtle effects on our daily lives.

“What did you do?”

Ever since I decided to reach out my audacious hand and tweak a couple things with the breath analyzer system for my research project, I dreaded hearing this question from my graduate student mentor. The tweaking had started as a simple desire to become more proactive in solving problems, but, as we know from tales like this, it did not end quite as I would have liked.

Despite having worked in my current lab for nearly two years, I still often feel like there are more things than ever that I don’t know how to do, more problems that I don’t know how to solve. As I’ve previously posted, I’ve been fighting a constant uphill struggle to get over my aversion to asking for help since coming to Princeton. Although I’ve become aware of it, I’ve recently realized there’s another factor that can get in the way of trying to rectify my aversion to asking for help: hanging onto what is often just foolish pride.

One day a couple weeks ago, I spotted some odd behavior with the breath analyzer system I currently work with for my independent work project. I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with it, but I had asked for help so many times before that it was starting to feel like too many times. Besides, we had done the procedure several times before. So I decided it was worth it to try fixing it by myself. Continue reading Asking for Help: A Question of Foolish Pride?

Tis the Season: Reorienting Your Research Goals

Even as the holiday season approaches, make sure you stay oriented with regards to your project. (Photo by Stacey Huang)
Even as the holiday season approaches, make sure you stay oriented with regards to your project.

Winter break is coming.

But that also means that, much as we would like to avoid it, reading period is also approaching more quickly than we might like. While that’s the last thing we want to be reminded of going into winter break, it helps to think ahead for planning. As a student doing independent work in the Electrical Engineering Department, I am required to submit a report during reading period summarizing what I have achieved during the semester. However, as that time draws closer and closer, I still don’t feel like there is necessarily a conclusive midway point in my research. I have to start asking myself: what exactly did I do this semester? What were my goals coming in and how far have I gone to reach them? Continue reading Tis the Season: Reorienting Your Research Goals

Ready for Take-Off: A Pre-Departure Plan to Study Abroad

The Office of International Programs helps students make their travel dreams a reality! (Photo credit: Morgan Celistan)
The Office of International Programs helps students make their travel dreams a reality!

Many people think about studying abroad while at Princeton, but only a select few actually apply. I seldom hear of research-oriented students studying abroad.  Many of us fear leaving behind the Princeton-centered academic research we’ve grown attached to. However, study abroad can be an amazing opportunity for student researchers to learn about their fields from an international perspective.

Next semester, I’ll be studying abroad at University College London (UCL). In addition to taking classes at my new university, I also hope to get involved in its research community. It seems easy to get caught up in the grandeur of being in a new location, focusing on exploring the area and forgetting to engage in meaningful and intellectual pursuits related to research. Therefore, I have spent the last few days trying to brainstorm ways to tie my research ambitions in with my plans for studying abroad. I’ve come up with a few pre-departure tasks that I feel will help me keep my research at the forefront of my mind while I traverse across the seas:

Continue reading Ready for Take-Off: A Pre-Departure Plan to Study Abroad

Tales of Adventures: Keeping Detailed Records of Your Work

Notes can get messy very quickly. Photo by Stacey Huang)
Notes can get messy very quickly.

Whether you work in the sciences or humanities, it’s integral to keep track of your work. It sounds obvious – it did to me too – until I started flipping through some of my notes in my lab notebook, trying to figure out the tests and results for a few small tests last semester. I knew I had done the tests, but I just couldn’t figure out what exactly I had done. Eventually, I found a few numbers in my notebook but couldn’t decipher them. Maybe those notes made sense to me 5 months ago, but now they only look like random scrawls of numbers to me.

It isn’t always a lab notebook: it could be keeping track of papers you’ve read and researched, writing down ideas you’ve tossed around with classmates or your adviser, basically keeping a record of all the work you’ve done. Often it can get boring to record every little thing, and often it can feel unnecessary, but not keeping a detailed record or at least well-organized notes or data of your progress somewhere helps no one. It does your hard work no justice when you can’t look back on it in the future and save time by skipping what you’ve already done. It all saves you time in the future from looking at the same papers, doing the same tests. Continue reading Tales of Adventures: Keeping Detailed Records of Your Work

The I-R-What?

IMG_5144Ah, the Institutional Review Board. Set up to protect the rights of human subjects in research projects, it has an extremely integral role in upholding the standards of research ethics and morality. I’ll be the first to admit that the IRB application is nit-picky, especially for the low-risk research that most students will do. However, I then read about human experiments of years prior to the IRB’s establishment—like Tuskegee—and realize how truly important the IRB is and feel less like wanting to pull my hair out. If you don’t know what Tuskegee is, I suggest Googling it and you will have a new-found appreciation for the Institutional Review Board. You’ll finally understand exactly why the application is a gazillion pages long when all you’re really trying to do is send out an anonymous survey to a group of 35 kids. BUT, I digress.

If your independent research involves humans as experimental subjects in any way, including interviews and surveys, you will have to fill out an application to get IRB approval. The purpose of the review board serves to make sure that all of your methods are ethical and do not pose harm to the people with whom you are working. It seems long and arduous, but I promise you’ll survive. Continue reading The I-R-What?