A Modern-day Monet

A creator—that is what I want to be when I grow up. I have always hoped to engage others with a  novel, creative idea that has yet to be understood by others, some sort of uncharted territory that has yet to be explored; to start with nothing and construct something, as if the matter itself has a mind of its own.  I have always aspired to be an artist.

When you think of great artists, you think of Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso. Maybe you think of Mozart and Ansel Adams or even Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare. These artists have inspired generations of people, redefined decades, and created great works of their own.

I work in a studio. The first thing you might notice when you walk in is that it’s a little cluttered, as any true artiste’s place is. Nevertheless, I know where everything is found and where it belongs, regardless of how unorganized it may look to the visitor’s eye. In the back there are three easels, where I place my canvases when I work. And by the easels there are rows of paintbrushes and dyes. On the side there is a coat rack piled with aprons. There are two long workbenches in the middle with shelves overflowing with supplies. Most dear to me are my sketchbooks, filled with sketches of my initial ideas as well as photographs of the final results. However, my canvases are living cells, instead of paintbrushes I use pipettes, my easel is a laminar flow hood, my dyes are drugs, the aprons are lab coats, the supplies are chemical reagents, my sketchbooks are lab notebooks filled with charts and diagrams and data and procedures. I work in a scientific research lab.

Art is defined as the expression of human creativity, but art is described as paintings, sculptures, poetry, dance, music, etc. My experience in undergraduate research has shown me that a large amount of creativity goes into scientific research. I think that there is a lack of appreciation in the beauty and creativity of science as an art. Laypeople go to museums to admire pieces of art which are created through techniques they do not understand. I think that they should just as well browse scientific journals or scientific databases for pieces of art. You can spend the day admiring discoveries in science, even if you do not understand the specific methods with which they were discovered. By refusing to picture scientists as a kind of painter, we forget that they too use creativity, that they too represent a generation of people, that they too are artists. Scientists lose recognition as leaders of society and revolution. I believe that you can define time periods in art movements as well as in scientific movements. By redefining the way science is seen by laypeople, we can generate a newfound interest in research and bring further value to the work done by scientists. So I challenge you.

When you think of a great artist, you might think of Stephen Hawking, Frederick Sanger, Jane Goodall. Maybe you think of Edward Witten and Craig Venter or even Jack Szostack and Richard Dawkins.

Tips for Surviving Your First Undergrad Research Experience

If you were like me when I started doing research, you’re probably equal parts excited and anxious to get started. I thought I could use this blog to help give some tips making your first research experience worth while.

1.      Read, Read, Read, and Ask Questions

It’s imperative to know the big picture goals of your project, as well as being able to explain them to other people in laymen’s terms. One of the best way to get a good idea of this is to read your lab’s most recent publications. It is also a good idea to ask your mentor or a graduate student in the lab if they have any others suggestions about relevant books or papers that form the basis for the research your lab does.

A lot of the papers and books you read will most likely be confusing, which is perfectly normal considering they often contain a lot of scientific jargon that can be intimidating. When this happens or you don’t understand a concept or detail about the research, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask a grad student or your professor to help you understand the problem. Additionally, it is most helpful to read the material first and then ask for clarification on things you don’t understand, rather than trying to get a busy grad student to explain the whole thing to you.

2.      Learn by doing

As an undergrad in your first research experience, you may be asked to do a lot of hands-on tasks or to use some instruments/software that you have seen or heard of before. Staring at these boxes with a lot of buttons and lights on them can be pretty intimidating, but just try your best! You’ll soon develop the necessary skills to be a contributing member of your lab if you work at it and try everything yourself first. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with getting help from your mentor if you are having persistent trouble, but you should try to do what they assign you to do by yourself before giving up.

3.      It’s okay to make mistakes, persevere

One of my main fears when I first joined the lab was the fear of messing up. However, everybody makes mistakes; it’s part of being human. Even my mentor has made calculation errors or overlooked something in a design, and when I make mistakes, it’s not a big deal and everyone understands. When you do make a mistake (trust me it will happen), it’s important to not beat yourself up about it. I’ve botched several soldering joints in my lab days, but though it is frustrating, I shrug it off and continue working with a positive attitude.

4.      De-stress

Sometimes, after working for a long time in the lab, things can get quite overwhelming, and it seems like there is simply not enough time to get everything you have to do done. Even though it feels this way, I feel that it is important to take some time and give your mind a break. I find when things are getting frustrating and stressful in the lab, walking around outside or having a hobby can really clear your head and get you revitalized and ready to tackle the obstacles you’re struggling with.

5.      You get out what you put in

Lastly, I would like to say that doing undergraduate research is a great opportunity for you to learn and gain experience, but if you don’t put the time in to read the material or actually go into lab to work, you won’t get anything useful out of it.

Best of luck on your future research endeavors Gauchos!

What They Don’t Tell You About Research

I’m sure that you all have ideas about what you think research will be like–reading, experimenting, thinking, and a lot of work. However, there are some subtleties to research people don’t really think or tell you about, and it isn’t until it happens to you that you realize it. Research, at least in a laboratory environment where you are constantly collaborating with those around you, requires a great deal of people skills.

What exactly do I mean by people skills though? I mean that you need to be able to calmly resolve any conflicts that could arise between you and your fellow researchers, and you should be able to handle the various personalities those you encounter in your research career.

From my own experience, as I became more established in my research lab, I started working more often and carrying out more experiments. Consequently, I started using more materials and equipment, and eventually I had some conflicts. One time, I was using a gel box and I hadn’t told anybody I would be using it. Then someone ended up needing it. When they approached me, I apologized and assured them I would let them know next time. Although it seems like a simple situation, it could have easily turned into a big dilemma if I hadn’t responded the way I did. It’s not easy to admit your mistakes, but it is a life lesson that is necessary to learn.

I became good friends with many of the graduate students and undergraduates in my lab as well. Each and every one of them have really different personalities. However, sometimes they are not easy to get along with. They may say something that you don’t necessarily agree with, or maybe they aren’t the nicest of people all of the time. For that reason, there will be times that you will need to swallow your pride, bite your tongue, and just deal with it for the moment. It won’t be easy, but it is much better than making a scene out of things and burning a bridge, because you will most likely need to see that person every day. Instead, if someone is really bothering you, talk to them later and work it out. If anything, they probably didn’t realize what they were doing or they might have had a bad day. Although what I’m saying might seem trivial, you would be surprised at how you may react when you are faced with a conflict, especially if you have been having a rough week.

I don’t want you to think that your research experience will be plagued with encounters like these, because it certainly won’t happen often if even at all. You should just be prepared in case it ever does. I assure you that your research experience will be fun, exciting, and rewarding!

blog computer

Computer Simulated Research

When many people think about research, they think of laboratories with chemicals, beakers and test tubes. To be honest, this is what I thought before I began working in Professor Meiburg’s lab this summer. In this lab, all of our experiments are done using computer simulations. This different approach to research really surprised me at first.

In Professor Meiburg’s group, we are researching fluid dynamics. In particular, we are studying the behavior of particles in a dense suspension experiencing shear forces. This research has a variety large scale applications, from rivers, pipes, and channels with large amounts of sediment and debris, to ocean currents after an earthquake. These situations are extremely difficult to study in real life, so my lab uses sophisticated computer simulations to model them instead. The computer simulations allow us to analyze the flows on the particle level and compare the particles’ position and velocity across very small time intervals. This level of analysis would be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in physical situations. Although this is not quite what I expected going into my first research experience, this approach makes a lot of sense when considering the type of research that we are doing.

At first, I was a bit disappointed that I would not be working in a lab with exciting hands on experiments. However, I soon realized that there is much more to research than exciting experiments. Solving problems, obtaining results, and drawing conclusions is what makes research exciting. The applications of the research, and knowing that you are advancing scientific knowledge and helping the world is what makes research thrilling, and what I love about it.

In the past three weeks, I have grown to really enjoy working in Professor Meiburg’s lab. Before beginning work, I was worried that I would not fit in to the research environment since I am an undergraduate, who just finished her first year, and everyone else is a graduate student. However, my experience was exactly the opposite. All of the people are so friendly and helpful. I got a very warm welcome the first day when I entered the lab, and have felt very included and at home ever since. We all go to lunch together almost every day, and I was even invited to a dinner and game night at my mentor’s apartment. The lab group is a very close family that I am really glad to have joined. I am excited to go to work every day and really enjoy what I am doing.

You love success? I love failure.

Here at UCSB, particularly for some Pre-Biology major students, fear plus stress on top of uneasiness can be verbally induced in vivo by simply mentioning the phrase “ready for your second year as a pre-bio student?”

It turns out it actually isn’t that bad.

As my second year as a pre-biology student is coming to an end, there have certainly been times where I had to work extra hard to maintain a good balance in all my involvements. However, I believe all the challenges presented and hard work I have put in will make me better at whatever I am doing. Although I am still at the beginning stage of my personal development, I feel like I have learned quite a bit this past year.

I believe we as individuals and students are constantly learning some sort of “life lesson.” It can be about effective time management, relationship building, so on and so forth. For me, one of the most meaningful lessons is to not take failures too personally but instead learn from them. These failures can originate from almost anywhere. An ignorant mistake when running a lab experiment that requires a start-over all the way from the very beginning. Unanimous rejection from all my applications for summer programs. These events certainly cause sad faces and gloomy days, but I try not to let them swell in my mind, as it would only worsen the situation.

These failures, however, are just like coins – there are two sides. While one side oftentimes represents frustration, the other side represents the “good things” about failures. They can be the lessons one should take away and not let the failures repeat themselves. In fact, I believe the more successful a person is, the more failures he/she will have experienced. Interestingly, there have been faculty members at several universities that created their “CV of Failures,” showcasing all the rejections they received in the past. To me, these CV’s do not simply serve to make these professors famous (although Professor Haushofer from Princeton University did list down a “meta-failure” on his CV of Failure as “2016: This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work”), but instead, they carry an important message. When I see people getting awards or read papers published by others, I inevitably get drawn into their “success” and question ourselves, “why do they/their experiments look so perfect, but mine don’t?”

Indeed, these people were able to make significant contributions and be recognized for them. However, the truth of the matter is, almost all of them have failed many many more times than I have. Without these failures, the success would not be as meaningful. In fact, without these failures, one might not even arrive at the success at all.

So next time if I mess up the results from an experiment I am running, instead of thinking I am a super idiot, complete failure and totally worthless, I should tell myself I might have gotten myself one step closer to the answer I have been searching for.