Getting My Mind Off School to Get Motivated for School

There are some days where I feel absolutely burned out. Whatever the reason, I just don’t feel like I’m making much progress with studying or research. Sometimes it’s best to take a short lived break during the quarter (maybe an evening or so)! To get my mind off of school, I stop whatever I am doing (of course, only if it does not conflict with any nearing deadlines!) and go for a run! Or a bike ride! There are countless articles in both peer-reviewed journals and newsletter magazines that talk about the factual and anecdotal benefits of exercise. In a “Letters to the Editor” section of the Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Dr. Ashish Sharma, Dr. Vishal Madaan, and Dr. Petty write about the benefits of exercise and mental health, in their article “Exercise for Mental Health.” They state, “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.” The authors go into further details on the scientific reasoning behind the linkage of exercise and better mental  health, but the message is clear, exercise helps!  (Link to the letter)

A participant in the STEM field is more or less likely to spend many hours sitting down. The demands of studying and pursuing research can add on a lot of stress, so I’ve found exercise to be quite a good outing. The beaches near UCSB are really a great place for a run on a sunny afternoon. Even more, the bike paths in Santa Barbara are great to ride through if you haven’t experienced it yet! The bike path that leaves past the engineering buildings go well past the Henley Gate and these lead to long, relatively flat bike paths (favorable for any one who rides fixed-gear!) that reach the downtown Santa Barbara area, which are not as flat as the path near UCSB. Sometimes, a small break from school, research, and academic work is needed to get back into the game. It’s like restarting your computer after it’s been left on for days!


Joining Research Efforts as a Transfer Student

I had no idea how large the field of research was prior to enrolling at UCSB. I attended Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC), a community college, for two years and never thought twice about the researching world. I was preoccupied with the worries of every prospective transfer student: what is my registration date? It was a nightmare getting the classes you’d need in order to transfer. Chemistry classes, for example, had only enough room for a fraction of the chemistry classes held here at UCSB! It was not uncommon to see groups of disappointed students trudging out of the classroom after the professor would proclaim, “No, you may not add this class. You may not even crash this class!”

It really surprised me to see how large some of the facilities were when I arrived at UCSB. There was a building for chemistry, engineering, materials, and other facilities that catered to a certain department’s needs. At Mt. SAC, everything was crammed into one building. I soon realized that a lot of the space in these buildings were for research efforts, and not multiple fancy classrooms!

Mt. SAC’s “Science” Building

After completing the Fall 2012 quarter, I was interested in joining research. So, I looked around on the web for a while and found some student Summer 2013 opportunities through the MRL webpage (which you should be looking at if you are an undergrad interested in materials research!). I applied to all programs available and heard back from the Partnerships for Research in Education and Materials (PREM) program UCSB had with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Right after my Spring 2013 quarter was over, I was heading over to El Paso, Texas!

My mentors/faculty sponsors were Juan Noveron and Delia Valles, an associate professor in UTEP’s Chemistry department and an associate professor in New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Industrial Engineering department respectively. For 10 weeks, we were trying to figure ways out on how to convert biomass into usable organic solar cell materials (abstract here). Did we find out if our research efforts worked in 10 weeks? That was indeterminable by the end of the research program, and I learned that that was okay! Was it an absolute loss? No way! There was a lot I learned about research and the nature of my project. One valuable skill I picked up was learning how to read scientific documents. There was and will always be a lot of previous knowledge (I extensively used Google Scholar!) that can possibly be applicable to your own research.

UTEP’s Chemistry and Computer Science Building (where I spent my 10 weeks doing research!)

My internship ended, but that was not the end of my pursuits in research. I contacted Jon Schuller, from UCSB’s ECE department, to join his lab, where he does organic solar cell related research. While related in topic, the type of research done is different. We are trying to understand the effect a polymer’s morphology will have on its optical properties.

This pretty much sums up my experience coming in as a transfer student from a community college to joining research labs. Why didn’t I start earlier? This goes back to my earlier statement on how I was too side-tracked and focused on transferring first. Also, it was a bit of me not knowing exactly what I wanted to do! If you hadn’t known, there are REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) and other programs community college students can apply for. I’d encourage this if you’re especially interested in the field of research!