The Freedom to Conduct Research Without Being Physically Constrained to a Lab
Without the pressure from the heavy course load during the school, summer has always been the perfect time for me to get more involved with research, reform my lifestyle to restore all the unfortunate damages that I did to my body during the school year due to irregular sleeping schedule or unhealthy diets, and check off my bucket list. Since research has been a major component of my summer, let’s talk about my experience in conducting theoretical research first.
It has been a very interesting experience transitioning from an experimental lab group to a purely theoretical group. Unlike what many people associate scientific research with – wearing a chemical spill proof and ski-mask-like goggles, while tweaking your cutting ledge laser optics setup or cultivating your biological samples in an advanced lab isolated from the rest of the civilization, my research group simply does not perform research in a traditional lab setting. My own “lab” has been my petite yet fully capable 11” laptop. To me, it really is a great privilege to be able to have great flexibility in terms of how and where I could work on pushing advances in my project. My comfortable apartment could immediately be turned into a lab as I wish, and so could a secluded coffee shop, or even a close by beach could be a lab if I really wanted to expose myself to some much needed vitamin D!
Although as dreamy as it would sound to conduct “research” at any beautiful beach that Santa Barbara has to offer, I do appreciate very much that I have an office in our physics department’s main building Broida that my faculty advisor reserved for me. It is where I spent most of my time and having an office where I can concentrate without distraction has undeniably contributed to the progress that I’ve made in my project so far.
Now without getting into the specifics of my own research on network neuroscience, which will be reserved for my final oral and poster presentations, I do want to touch on the new things that I learned regarding research in this summer. This is my third summer doing undergraduate research and, in my opinion and from past experiences, the hardest part in research is not necessary the lab work itself, which undoubtedly could be very tough in various aspects, but the process of bridging your knowledge and insights that you gained in your own project with the existing literature. Depending on your field, the literature could be incredibly rich or in the case of relatively new fields, a coherent and unified school of thoughts could be lacking. It then could be challenging, yet equally interesting at the same time, to form interpretations from your own data, and be able to confidently defend your own data and methods when it’s faced with different results from the literature. As a young student with relatively limited research experience, the process of improving experimental methods and advancing the understanding in the field based on the existing literature is something that I’m still learning. And it is needless to say that it truly is a privilege to be able to contribute new information to the general knowledge to certain scientific fields.
Besides research, I have had the time to be eating way healthier unprocessed food compared to my horrifically nutritionally deficient diets during the school year. Combined with better sleeping schedule and exercising habits, this summer has been a great one and I feel fully charged to take on another challenging, schedule packed fall quarter in a month!