Thursday February 9, 2017

How I Got My Research Assistant Position at UD

Only a few weeks into school and I already feel as though this is going to be such a great, productive semester! 

With new classes underway, it feels great to be able to take a fresh look at things and to get started on the right foot. I'm making good use of Google Calendar, eating well, sleeping well, and even focusing on one of the most important aspects of my STEM career-- RESEARCH. 

Last semester, I was frantically trying to find a professor on campus that was not only actively participating in research but also researching things that I actually have an interest in. On top of that, to participate, professors need to actively accept students for the semester. 

This sounds like a lot of work, but the search was made a lot easier using UD's online database of faculty and staff on campus. The profiles are organized by department, and from there it just takes a lot of profile clicking on the hundreds of faculty that you may be interested in working with. The profiles were extremely helpful for me because not only did they include pictures of the faculty and their contact information, but it also had a lot of information about the type of research that they were actively involved in, their past research, their accolades, and their other experience. Reading up on this information helped me to be well-prepared when I first emailed these professors--I knew their background, could tell them what I was interested in and how the research could help me. It's also just helpful when you know what you're talking about if you meet these professors so that you talk about the wrong thing or the wrong person's research. You want to be confident and be able to say things like, "I see that your active research is in biochemistry and molecular biology, I'd love to gain some of that hands-on experience as a Biology student looking to pursue a career in biotechnology, etc." 

That leads me into the next important step after I completed my faculty research--emails. I probably sent about 15 emails and heard back from three people. That's okay! Professors are busy, they have lives, and sometimes the easiest way to let a student get the hint that you're not accepting research students at the moment is maybe to just not respond. No hard feelings, I totally understand. But hey, even if they did get a chance to reach out to me, the other faculty member was looking for someone who could be around for more extensive hours, and I wasn't able to commit to that at the time. I ended up meeting with two professors during their office hours and we discussed their plans, research history, my career goals, availability, and the current and future courses I was taking that could correspond with the skills I already had or was looking to develop. 

Finally, I decided to stick with Dr. Matthew Lopper in his biochemistry lab replication DNA to be used for the biochemistry lab he taught. We meet one day a week for a couple hours a day working on real, practical molecular biology and biochemical techniques that I'll be able to apply to my future career. This includes more in-depth laboratory techniques that I would normally be participating in a lab for one of my classes. There is no lab manual to follow that tells you what to do step-by-step I'm able to become familiar with a professional lab setting that requires a lot of problem-solving techniques and true application of what I may have already learned. 

It's been a great experience so far because I work with two other students in the lab and we're a small team that comes together every week to complete a big task. It's great being in a small group of students who may come from slightly different backgrounds than you but can bring a lot more insight into the lab from unique perspectives. Together we succeed and fail and learn in an open environment where we are free to ask questions at any time--it's not like a structured lecture. 

I'm so happy to be getting this hands-on experience as a sophomore. It's helping me to refine my career path and begin to put all my hard work and studying to good use. I'm truly grateful for the abundance of faculty members that the University of Dayton does have that students can utilize at any time (even if they don't email you back the first time). The community truly extends outside of the classroom into our everyday learning experiences and it's a resource that I think many more students should take advantage of, especially since this is real work experience that I'll be able to add to my resume.

I'm so excited for what the rest of the semester has in store for me!

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