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.