Thursday, July 17, 2008

The frustrations of trying to find research - a window into undergraduate life

Most science blogs out there are from graduate students or faculty members. I'm still in college, and I'm looking pretty feverishly for research.

Part of the problem is personal issues; I've got a few pretty difficult ones to deal with, and I'll hopefully deal with them by the beginning of the semester. I'm not going to tell readers what the issues are, but they suck.

I'll admit my grades are not what they should be, either, because of these personal issues. One of the things that has been helping me keep my head up is Brian Switek's series of posts at Laelaps, telling the reader about his own struggles, which are different than mine, but reading the advice there keeps me from crumbling.

My first attempt at finding research was back in 2007, when I emailed a neurogeneticist at my university who was doing work on Drosophila. There was a lot of back-and-forth with emails until he said 'I can't train you' and I just went batshit until his graduate student said 'Hey, I'm looking for someone to help me' and I volunteered and he said 'I can't train you'.

Fall of 2007 was spent grumbling about the missed research and doing my classes. Spring of 2007 was when I started trying to pick up more research, but after contacting at least six or seven different people, there was nothing to do.

This semester will be spent trying to pick my grades up, and after that I'll probably try a few other places and reapply, since my grades will be higher. My advisor, another professor in my department, and a few others are good sources of information.

But I spend most of my precious little free time on campus reading blogs from fellow science people, reading new information, and sucking up every bit of knowledge I can find. I have a passion for what I study - neuroscience is my life. I've gotten encouragement from my fellow students; one who works at the VA hospital that's near the university hospital has given me some useful advice on trying to find a lab.

I'll get my degrees. I have to.

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tnk0001 said...

I'm a neuro grad student and I know the issues you're having. I had pretty bad undergrad grades from a series of unfortunate events (and before that quite frankly freshman laziness on my part when I didn't quite realize how much it would matter). I had a prof though who out of my interest in her class let me come by her lab and do some work, learn from the students there and get a foot in. Aside from that lucky break though I learned you can start at the bottom asking for experience. Find a nice grad student, get them to show you what they're doing. See the prof in their lab while already showing a very focused interest in what's going on there. Maybe some will still turn you away, but I now know myself from years of experience that it's a little flattering to have an undergrad be curious and no problem to take a little bit to show them what I'm doing. This doesn't work by email though. People don't actually exist if all you encounter is their words on a screen.... or at least they're easier to brush off. Good luck to you and if you have any interest in primary neuronal cultures and are ever in Munich, Germany I need an assistant!

The skepTick said...

Wow - I didn't realize it was that hard. I thought profs (or at least the university) would have a special interest in help the grad students out instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. Best of luck to you - I hope you find what you're looking for.

kldickson said...

skeptick - I'm not a grad student.

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

Try to review one variable calculus and learn it really well. There are many interesting ways to apply math. Learn statistics really well. Many people have lab skills, but few know calculus and stats well. So you could get some work doing that.

Anonymous said...

What happens if you don't? Do you define yourself by your education?

I am concerned that anyone who has this much attachment to their imagined future path would be in ego-destroying trouble if they should fail.

I hope you have a backup plan, just in case you don't make it to grad school.