Before you do research

Not many students really think about researching as an undergraduate because graduate school is something of a mysterious land that they have yet to even imagine exploring. However, it’s something I have considered pursuing since matriculating into UCSB but the thought itself is very scary. That is why undergraduate research is a step in the right direction because it allows for you to experience a small portion of what could be if you do decide to head toward this direction. But before you start research, I want to talk about a misconception I had previously about research.

Not all research experiences are the same. I came in thinking that I would immediately be in the lab designing and testing circuits and working side by side with my mentor; instead, I had papers upon papers to read. The big mistake I made there was thinking that research was going to be easy. The material that doctoral students had to understand and digest cannot be understood in a few weeks by undergrads. The reality of the situation was that I needed a strong physics base knowledge in electromagnetic fields to start comprehending the design parameters of my project. But like I said before, not all research experiences are the same. There are research projects where the majority of the job is spent testing samples because the project is nearing completion or the bulk of the work lies in repetitive tasks. These usually require less technical knowledge but more lab skill. For example, a friend of mine was looking at plants under a microscope to sort them for a professor. The research value gained from that was mainly the networking and exposure to the lab atmosphere. Each experience is valuable in its own respect and you have to make the best of it.

Tips for Balancing Life in Summer Research

worklife balanceFor those students who are living in an apartment and conducting summer research for the first time, maintaining a balanced life can be a new experience. Here are a few tips to make your survival easier:

  1. 1.  Create a routine in the beginning of summer.

During the regular academic year, each day of the week can be different depending on the courses you are enrolled in. In full-time summer research, however, you can create a routine which you can follow every day. This could entail setting aside an hour each day for a workout because you are on a weight loss mission. Following a routine is excellent practice, as it provides structure and a sense of purpose, builds good habits, and also negates the need for willpower. By negating willpower, I mean that instead of waking up and thinking “should I go for a run today,” you think, “time for my daily run”.

  1. Make your own meal plan.

By creating a meal plan, you can eat healthier foods as well as save money. You can cook something different every day. If you do not have the time to cook lunch and instead plan on eating out, try relatively healthier and cheaper options such as the soups or salads at Courtyard Café. Incorporate this meal plan into your routine, so that you feel more obliged to follow this plan and are less likely to impulsively eat outside.

  1. Plan your research.

If you’re feeling motivated and productive, set some research goals and deadlines for the upcoming week. You should already know what the end goal of your research is, but the steps necessary to achieve that goal can sometimes be elusive. Hence spend some of your spare time pondering over your research. This will help you gain more control and decrease the likeliness of thoughts such as “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

  1. Ask questions.

Although a cliché, it is true that research is all about asking questions. This is a skill that is useful in all aspects of life. Don’t understand how an interferometer works? Google it. Cannot find it online? Ask your peers or mentor. Train yourself to ask questions that don’t solely address the “What”, but also the “Why”.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Good luck, and have fun researching!

Prepare Your Eyes For What You Are About To Read

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.

The First Weeks With AIM Photonics

Time flies. I am already three weeks into my summer internship with the AIM Photonics program at UCSB.  I do research under professor Meinhart and Rustin Mirsafavi, and conduct my daily work in both Meinhart’s and Moskovits’ lab. A lot has happened since starting the program. Being a frequent list-maker, and lacking other ways to efficiently convey everything that I have learned and done so far, I decided to make one to cover the highlights of my research experience thus far.

Following is a short list I have assembled of some of the things that has made this summer research internship an awesome experience:

I learned how to make these microfluidics devices. reddevicepicture They might not look like much, but they have the potential to accomplish great things, such as detecting substances of forensic significance in various fluids (like blood or saliva). They each have three inputs, seen on the right, for the sample and the solutions that we need to analyze it. The slightly bigger output is seen on the left. In between the two glass slits is a microfluidics chip that contains the micro channels the fluid travels through.

 

Below is a close-up of the micro channels through a microscope. In case you’re wondering why it is has all that dust in it, it is because this was my first-ever attempt at making a device.

 

redmicroscopephoto

My mentor is good at explaining things, so I learn a lot. To be honest, I was a little hesitant to begin conducting research in a field that was so different from what I study. I major in physics and focus mainly on astrophysics in my other research and classes. This research involves a lot of chemistry, which I have not taken a class for in about 3 years (and with those classes being taught in Swedish). I expected that I would have to spend a lot of time reading up on things that I didn’t understand, but Rustin goes over the concepts thoroughly.  I feel like I get a very good grasp of the theory behind what we do, and I also learn quite a bit of chemistry in the process.

Weekly talks, workshops, and networking opportunities. This is one of my favorite things about the program. So many resources are available to us interns. In addition to attending workshops and talks on various topics, there are occasional networking events. Just this Friday we got to sit down and have dinner with a few UCSB professors, and another dinner with industry will be held in about two weeks. I am really excited.

I get to practice public speaking. This one is overdue.  I can say with great confidence that public speaking is certainly not my thing. It is a vital skill that I will inevitably have to use in my future career, and I have done next to nothing to help me get over being terrified of it. This being said, I am actually very thankful that we are required to prepare weekly presentations for our internship groups. While we have only had two meetings so far, I am already feeling better about it.

Always Learning, Not Only in Lab.

Not only are you learning new material during the internship and inside the lab but you are also learning outside from that. During my internship, AIM Photonics, I was giving a schedule that has many fascinating things to do outside the lab. From professors presenting materials, dinner with faculty and industries, meeting other interns and learning about their projects, and talks giving by a variety of different people. I know studying too much may be overwhelming and frustrating but having outside activities and learning different material outside the lab helps clear the mind and may motivate you to get back in the lab and solve your problem.

We have general meetings on Friday, presentation talks throughout the week, personal(self) presentations of our own projects, dinner with faculty/industries, and many other exciting things to do throughout the week to attend. During our general meetings on Friday all the interns from different internship meet to have a free lunch provided by the internship and have guest speakers that teach us all new material about academics and material that can help us in the real world. The general meetings are great because you get to see your peers, time outside the lab to relax and socialize, and learn new material other than what you are doing in the lab. Not only is their presentation talks during general meetings on Friday, they’re outside talks from different faculty professors on campus as well. The talks are optional and you may attend any one that you want. There are talks from different majors, startup talks, and talks that can help you become a better student.

Other than the talks, you get to have dinner with the faculty from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and get to learn from them as well. You may ask them questions about their journey to become a professor, engineer, or whatever there major is. Many professor have fascinating stories about their life and what they went through to be where they’re at right now. The dinner with faculty is the best time to learn new things from the professors and see that life isn’t so broad to become a professor. Many have done different things in life to get where they’re at right now from traveling, attending different schools before ending up at UCSB, retired and still having their labs at UCSB, and other amazing stories. These opportunities that we, interns, get is amazing because most professors are so busy to talk to students but at this dinner you have a chance to learn from them about their background, make a great impression, and get your foot in the door to become close with them. Most people would die or do anything for an opportunity like this and I am happy that I was able to see and chat to many different professors for an hour and a half. I would say talking and having dinner with these professors is a highlight of my first 3 weeks of my intern because they may remember you that you can get a spot in their labs in the future, a tour of their labs, and maybe a future positions as a graduate student or postdoc. This dinner you may learn a lot from different professors that you didn’t know about from their background, research, and life. Great way to learn outside the lab and maybe see your professor that you can get more details about your research or help personally from them.