Prepare Your Eyes For What You Are About To Read

Because you will read a lot. Probably more than you thought you were ever going to. But this post is short, and hopefully my experiences will help to guide your endeavors.

Before I keep going, I want to offer my congratulations for those who will be participating in a research program, and to offer encouragement to those who have not yet or who are on the fence about participating in one. It is an exciting time and there is much to learn, both about the material and about yourself.

The first statement I made is true, you will read much more than you think you will need. As undergrads, we don’t have all the knowledge that a second or third year graduate student has, and even they don’t know everything, so be prepared to be flooded with information. However, don’t get yourself down about what you don’t know and focus instead on what you do know and how to be open to the new information you will have. Right now, we are about half way done and at this point I have a good general understanding of what this project is and why we should be doing it, but I definitely could not derive and prove the equations needed to explain the theory behind it all. Even so, it’s not necessary to understand every detail in order to be able to function.

What’s more, you will have a great team behind you; your mentor, your faculty advisor, any other grad students you meet, peers and other interns in the same research group, coordinators who helped choose you to participate, will all stand for you when you need help. It could be an explanation for a code that you need to write, or a listening ear to tell someone about how hard the commute is because there is no other option. You have many people that want to see you succeed and because of that, you are not alone. We are all here because we want to be, we crave that experience and the delight in learning how these small projects make up a larger, fundamental idea that can change the way we think about the world.

My experiences may not be so much like yours, or it may be exactly what you are going through. Everyone’s experience is different; for some it may be more difficult, and others may not feel the challenge. Whatever position you are in, use your time to get to know yourself, what you do and do not like, what you may need improvement in, what things pique your interest and possibly be the thing that you may want to study in the future. You have much time to figure it out and there is no expectation that you will know exactly what you want when you are asked. Be present to your experiences and take whatever offers seem like they hold promise to your career as a scientist; who knows, you may be doing what you thought was never possible in research.

This is a short sum of advice that came from what I have experienced so far, and some of it I needed to hear from myself. Chances are, this will not be the end of the advice you will hear, and some of this I’m sure you will hear again. But for now, explore the world, explore yourself, and make sure to get your eyes checked yearly in case you need glasses, like I do.

GIVE (what you have) and TAKE (every experience as it comes)

I had to give up studying abroad for the EUREKA internship last summer (2015). I have always been a believer in everything happens for a reason, and I completely see the reasoning now. I guess this is mainly for those curious about the internship, the experience, and are wondering why they should do it. (Because you totally should!!!)

I feel like I have to give a lot of credit to the lab I joined. The Hayton lab is full of fun and interesting people, along with my amazing mentor. I could see her investment in me and I appreciate that so much. Hearing how others’ mentors acted, I am so glad mine was there every step of the way. Some mentors just gave a topic or brief directions to the undergrad and didn’t do much else. My mentor helped me work through things when I hit a wall and was there for me through all of it. This may in part be due to the small size of the Hayton lab. When I joined there were only nine of us including Professor Hayton and I. I have also done a bit of growing up thanks to the members of my lab. I went to multiple get together/party/things with graduate students. The definition of a party completely changes as you get older from our current definition of what we think of as the typical Isla Vista party, hence my lack of the proper word to call it. It is a little weird being the only undergraduate, and the only one who doesn’t drink (I legally can’t either), but it is a learning experience. I was also invited to my first non-family related wedding, my mentor’s wedding actually. That is a weird feeling on its own. Usually your parents are reminding you, “Oh were going to your cousin’s (or whichever family member’s) wedding.” It’s different when you get an invitation addressed to you, not your parents, not to “the family of…” You realize you hit the age of “people I know are getting married.” Yes, people from my high school have already gotten married and had kids, but its different when you get invited. It’s almost like, it may be happening to other people, but now I realize I really am becoming an adult too. It’s hard to explain, hopefully this side rant wasn’t pointless. My mentor is also leaving with her PhD after this quarter. Unfortunately, I may not be able to go to her defense. But! I have seen the process of writing a dissertation, and it is no easy task. These are just a few of the experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.

One last major experience was my first scientific conference! Great experience with such a learning curve. I learned that no you don’t have to be there the whole time, yes you should, but it is not required. I need to get better at networking, like a lot better. I feel like there was a lack of networking focus because I went to an undergraduate research conference. Not something big like ACS where more professors are interested in going. Take advantage of networking while you can! Another thing I have learned through the EUREKA meetings is luck is not a thing in the chemistry career world. Its mostly great letters of recommendation, knowing people where you are trying to go, and hoping your resume is the one they pick.

I also learned a lot about myself. I absolutely love doing lab research. It was such an amazing experience. I was also very invested in it. I mean who doesn’t want to make the first molecule of its kind and possibly be one step closer to curing nuclear waste?! I mean c’mon, that’s pretty cool isn’t it? I learned I really need to get my act together and better learn how to balance my time. In that lesson I also learned I might not be the best for graduate school, even though I absolutely love research. Graduate school is harder than being an undergraduate, without a doubt. Without telling my life story, I simply realized that graduate school might be too much for me to handle mentally. Even though I would miss being in a lab immensely.

Another lesson: Focus on academics. Focus on academics! Focus on ACADEMICS! Yes research is going to be soooooo much more fun that studying for that midterm next week, but trust me, put down the vials and beakers, and study. Your mentor and PI will understand. They were in those undergrad shoes once too. You are in college to get a degree, so do that first! Make that your number one priority. I paid the ultimate price by not passing a class. Yes I tried, but no matter what I did it just turned into a giant jumbled mess when I took the tests. I still believe everything happens for a reason because this quarter I will be raising that non-passing grade to a B! (Trying to not jinx an A) Unfortunately, that means I can’t study abroad this summer, again. Since now I need to take summer classes here at UCSB. I have come to terms with it, accepting it as a bump in the road that I kept driving past. Soooooo… don’t mess up like me, focus on academics!!

On top of academics and research, give yourself time. Focus on you as well. Being a walking ball of stress won’t help anything. In the end, everything boils down to your mentality. Keep that smile, and your chin up!

This internship has changed my college career and how I look at things. I would tell anyone to do it because I learned so many valuable things I would have not learned otherwise.

The First Weeks With AIM Photonics

Time flies. I am already three weeks into my summer internship with the AIM Photonics program at UCSB.  I do research under professor Meinhart and Rustin Mirsafavi, and conduct my daily work in both Meinhart’s and Moskovits’ lab. A lot has happened since starting the program. Being a frequent list-maker, and lacking other ways to efficiently convey everything that I have learned and done so far, I decided to make one to cover the highlights of my research experience thus far.

Following is a short list I have assembled of some of the things that has made this summer research internship an awesome experience:

I learned how to make these microfluidics devices. reddevicepicture They might not look like much, but they have the potential to accomplish great things, such as detecting substances of forensic significance in various fluids (like blood or saliva). They each have three inputs, seen on the right, for the sample and the solutions that we need to analyze it. The slightly bigger output is seen on the left. In between the two glass slits is a microfluidics chip that contains the micro channels the fluid travels through.


Below is a close-up of the micro channels through a microscope. In case you’re wondering why it is has all that dust in it, it is because this was my first-ever attempt at making a device.



My mentor is good at explaining things, so I learn a lot. To be honest, I was a little hesitant to begin conducting research in a field that was so different from what I study. I major in physics and focus mainly on astrophysics in my other research and classes. This research involves a lot of chemistry, which I have not taken a class for in about 3 years (and with those classes being taught in Swedish). I expected that I would have to spend a lot of time reading up on things that I didn’t understand, but Rustin goes over the concepts thoroughly.  I feel like I get a very good grasp of the theory behind what we do, and I also learn quite a bit of chemistry in the process.

Weekly talks, workshops, and networking opportunities. This is one of my favorite things about the program. So many resources are available to us interns. In addition to attending workshops and talks on various topics, there are occasional networking events. Just this Friday we got to sit down and have dinner with a few UCSB professors, and another dinner with industry will be held in about two weeks. I am really excited.

I get to practice public speaking. This one is overdue.  I can say with great confidence that public speaking is certainly not my thing. It is a vital skill that I will inevitably have to use in my future career, and I have done next to nothing to help me get over being terrified of it. This being said, I am actually very thankful that we are required to prepare weekly presentations for our internship groups. While we have only had two meetings so far, I am already feeling better about it.

Always Learning, Not Only in Lab.

Not only are you learning new material during the internship and inside the lab but you are also learning outside from that. During my internship, AIM Photonics, I was giving a schedule that has many fascinating things to do outside the lab. From professors presenting materials, dinner with faculty and industries, meeting other interns and learning about their projects, and talks giving by a variety of different people. I know studying too much may be overwhelming and frustrating but having outside activities and learning different material outside the lab helps clear the mind and may motivate you to get back in the lab and solve your problem.

We have general meetings on Friday, presentation talks throughout the week, personal(self) presentations of our own projects, dinner with faculty/industries, and many other exciting things to do throughout the week to attend. During our general meetings on Friday all the interns from different internship meet to have a free lunch provided by the internship and have guest speakers that teach us all new material about academics and material that can help us in the real world. The general meetings are great because you get to see your peers, time outside the lab to relax and socialize, and learn new material other than what you are doing in the lab. Not only is their presentation talks during general meetings on Friday, they’re outside talks from different faculty professors on campus as well. The talks are optional and you may attend any one that you want. There are talks from different majors, startup talks, and talks that can help you become a better student.

Other than the talks, you get to have dinner with the faculty from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and get to learn from them as well. You may ask them questions about their journey to become a professor, engineer, or whatever there major is. Many professor have fascinating stories about their life and what they went through to be where they’re at right now. The dinner with faculty is the best time to learn new things from the professors and see that life isn’t so broad to become a professor. Many have done different things in life to get where they’re at right now from traveling, attending different schools before ending up at UCSB, retired and still having their labs at UCSB, and other amazing stories. These opportunities that we, interns, get is amazing because most professors are so busy to talk to students but at this dinner you have a chance to learn from them about their background, make a great impression, and get your foot in the door to become close with them. Most people would die or do anything for an opportunity like this and I am happy that I was able to see and chat to many different professors for an hour and a half. I would say talking and having dinner with these professors is a highlight of my first 3 weeks of my intern because they may remember you that you can get a spot in their labs in the future, a tour of their labs, and maybe a future positions as a graduate student or postdoc. This dinner you may learn a lot from different professors that you didn’t know about from their background, research, and life. Great way to learn outside the lab and maybe see your professor that you can get more details about your research or help personally from them.

Research got you feeling confused?

There is a sentiment when entering the college world that your learning is solely up to you.

It is true to an extent, although I have really taken it to heart: no one cares more about my learning than I do. This internalization of the learning process enforces the idea that it’s your responsibility to learn. It also leads to the idea that if you don’t understand something, then you’re not really trying. This attitude only worsens during the transition to to more advanced courses and research. It is no coincidence that being surrounded by high achieving peers commonly found in the university setting leads to imposter syndrome: the persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.  As you get closer to the limits of a field of knowledge, it’s harder to seek the answers to the increasingly specific and focused questions that characterize cutting edge research. As Martin Schwartz puts it, “Science involves confronting our ‘absolute stupidity’”. In research, there is no such thing as stupid questions, because no one knows the best way to confront the question until the answer is found, if it is ever found. Everyone is similarly in the dark, undergraduates think their graduate student TA’s are smarter than them. Graduate students think their advisors are smarter than them. The only difference between these groups is experience. Those who have waded through the darkness longer have simply grown accustomed to and learned to navigate the sea of ignorance they must face in order to expand their knowledge.

So let’s embrace our ignorance. Instead of growing discouraged, let’s seek inspiration in the fact that creating new knowledge is hard and that there is always something to learn, even if we get it wrong the first time. We should take our intellectual pleasures where we find them.