Starting At Zero
My debut in undergraduate research has been (at least in my mind) tumultuous. If I were to condense the experience to something that gets the point across, I would point you to this image:
First, some backstory. I am a physics major. While I love the major, I also wanted to pursue some technical skills like coding and knowledge of hardware. That’s why I decided to venture into the field of electrical engineering for my first foray into undergraduate research. Interdisciplinary research is big these days, and lots of physics majors don’t limit themselves to research within just physics. I figured that starting in a different field would be fine. The challenge was finding a way to do so.
The AIM Photonics program helped me with this, introducing me to the Blumenthal group (led by Dr. Daniel Blumenthal). Here I am currently, working on a research project that is heavily based on hardware I’ve heard nothing of before, software programs I didn’t know existed, and programming languages I’ve not learned. In other words, I was a bit out of my element.
I’m liking the challenge. I learn that much more because I knew so little about the tools I’m using. I learn things I wouldn’t normally learn. At the same time, there are downsides. I feel that I have to learn more than someone who is an electrical engineering major (where they might traditionally study these things). It’s some good parts, and some bad parts.
To that I say, “This is fine.”
And to you reading, know that this is normal. The process of undergrad research demands that you learn about things you’ve never seen. If you’re like me and start your research career in a different field, then you might know even less. That’s where most everyone starts. We spend weeks and months learning more about our projects, our tools, and our fields. It’s normal to find it intimidating- we’re just interns starting out. We don’t have the experience our mentors do.
We’ve got to take it one day at time, and then we’ll grow out of this phase.