Name: Carla Saunders
Year: Senior '14
Position: Undergraduate Researcher
Where did you do your undergraduate research?
I do my research through the CSB|SJU chemistry department. The project I'm working on is in collaboration with a lab at Montana State University; I have gotten to spend some time there as well.
How did you find out about the undergraduate research program and what was the application process like?
The chemistry professors are really good about letting students know when the applications are available. I found out in my second semester of Organic Chemistry and thought it sounded fun. The application is filled out through the chemistry department. Each professor posts the topic of their research by their office, and you choose your top interests (along with information about classes you've taken and some other things like that). Acceptance is based on the funding each professor has, the need they have for student researchers, and students' qualifications and interests.
What were some of the highlights?
One of the best parts of doing undergraduate research was getting a chance to experience life as a chemist before I was completely committed to the major. It also is really fun to get to explore chemistry more deeply than I would get to in a 4-hour teaching lab. After spending time working on a research project, you start to get a deeper understanding of some parts of chemistry.
What was a typical day like? What were some of your major responsibilities?
Research days during the summer and during the school year are a little different, and really every day is a little different. Depending on the project you are working on and the different struggles it provides, each day can be very different from the rest. Usually I am running a reaction, purifying the product, or obtaining and analyzing data to see if it went the way it was intended. A lot of times things don't go as hoped, so I have to figure out why and how to fix it. Sometimes that part can be really frustrating, but it really helps you to learn and is often the most rewarding when you finally solve the problem.
What were some of the challenges of your research?
Sometimes a project just does not seem to work. No matter what you try, you can't get the data you need to continue research. This happened in the final step of one of the reactions I was utilizing in my research. The only thing that you can do is take a deep breath and try another way around the problem. For me, this meant making several different concentrations of sample to be tested in several different solutions. To get the data that is needed, the correct solution at the correct concentration had to be found, so I just had to keep going until I got it, and eventually I did (with the help of a graduate student at MSU).
What did you learn?
It's really impossible to explain everything I've learned doing research but here are some observations:
- I've gotten a deeper understanding of chemistry and how to communicate it to people
- I obtained a view of graduate school and had a chance to research careers
- I've developed critical thinking skills to solve the problems that arise and communication skills to work with lab partners and advisors, and much more!
What advice would you give other students interested in doing research?
Talk to your professors if you are interested in research. They are there to help you and can answer any questions you have about the application process (to either CSB|SJU research or research elsewhere).