A Travel Guide Through Science Research and Across the World

“Undergrads with destination to grad school, please have your email ready”

If someone had told me during my senior year of high school that I would be doing research on neuroscience, ecology, molecular biology, and environmental studies I would not have believed them. If someone had told me that I would work with bacteria, fruit flies, and even with elephants I would think they were joking.

However, I experienced all of this during my undergrad career, and although I lived through them, I still cannot believe that I got them all thanks to emails.

My Journey through Science

I started my journey in science without really knowing what my final stop was. I only knew that if I was going to be in a research university, I was going to do research. My first stop was at Dr. Keller’s lab in the Bren School doing Environmental Studies research. Here, I overcame the fear of “traveling alone”—aka the fear of being in a lab. This first experience encouraged me to apply for other labs; after all I wanted to learn from many other branches of science. I traveled then to a molecular biology lab where I stayed for a whole summer studying prokaryotic interactions. Then, I LITERALLY traveled to Kenya, Africa to conduct Ecology research in Dr. Hillary Young’s lab. When I came back I then embarked to neuroscience research in Craig Montell’s lab, where I’m currently working with fruit flies to determine the biochemical mechanisms of the circadian rhythm. While this is a stop in my journey, I plan to continue my journey to graduate school and to learn more about human biology.

I Don’t Have The Resources to Travel, How Do I Afford a Ticket?

Your email is your travel ticket! In the real world, people travel via planes, hitchhiking, or backpacking. I see doing research as an undergrad the same way; you can get into a lab thanks to your excellent GPA (plane), because you know someone (hitchhiking), or because you contacted a professor (backpacking). I did the latter via email and I would not have it otherwise. I got all of my research positions thanks to emailing professors and grad students whose research interested me. Even when I thought that I would not get in a lab, I always emailed professors expressing my interest on their research. This is how I got my trip to Africa funded- Just by emailing a grad student. So, even if you don’t have the resources to travel (Don’t have a good GPA, or don’t think you have the experience) DO NOT hesitate to email your professors or lab members. They might be able to help you and offer you a spot in their labs as their mentees.

 Is doing research as scary as your first flight?

Yes, it is. I come from a low-income neighborhood with underfunded and understaffed schools. Working in a lab never really crossed my mind as I had never been exposed to research nor a lab. Thus, the day before my first day in the Keller lab, I was anxious and nervous. What if I would ruin my advisers work by spilling something? What if I didn’t understand something he said? Or even worse, what if I didn’t understand his whole project!? All of these questions crossed my mind. But when I got to the lab, the excitement of learning new things, the lab equipment, and the idea of contributing to the scientific community helped me overcome my fears. It felt the same way I felt when I boarded my flight to Kenya (This international flight was actually my first flight). At first, I was scared. I asked myself what if I couldn’t take the pressure change? What if the plane crashed? But, soon all of these fears disappeared when the feeling of excitement of the accelerating plane and the beautiful scenery from the airplane window took over me.

If you ever doubt yourself or think you are not good enough for a lab, just remember that most probably those fears will be overpowered by the excitement of learning new things and contributing to the science.


My journey wasn’t the smoothest. Like all backpackers, I sometimes got tired, got my hands dirty, or felt some level of uncertainty. But also, like all backpackers, I found the beautiful science scenery that not everyone gets to see and picked up lessons along the way that I’ll always keep with me. Working in different fields, helped me implement lab techniques and research approaches to my new projects allowing me to improve as a researcher. Life, as in science, is not about the destiny, but the journey. As an incoming senior, I don’t know if my next or final stop is grad school, but I certainly have enjoyed the journey and all of the lessons it has taught me.


From the Classroom to the Lab: It’s Not the Same!

My goal with this post is to share my experience with organic chemistry class and organic chemistry instructional lab, and how those experiences completely differed when I got to do organic chemistry in a research lab.

There are prerequisite class series that you must take to move on with your major. For me, one of them was organic chemistry. Taking organic chemistry was not the most exciting part of my second year. I didn’t have anything against the subject– I actually thought it was quite interesting– but amidst the other classes I was taking, extracurriculars, and my personal life it became mostly a chore of a class. I breezed through the series with not much thought about it, thinking I’d never be doing organic chemistry again.

Instructional lab was a little different but had the same result. It was a lot more interesting than the class for sure. You get the opportunity to apply some of the theory and see it happen in real life. I really enjoyed many of the labs that employed making stuff from everyday life. However, what I didn’t like was the time commitment required to do well in the class. Consecutive prelabs and lab reports would pile up and combine with midterms and homework from other classes and would all lead to long nights on days before lab.

Overall, both lab and class were stressful experiences that left a small sour taste for organic chemistry; by the end of the series, I was relieved I’d never have to see the subject again. But because this is life and nothing ever goes the way you think, here I am this summer doing research that involves lots of organic synthesis. the plot twist is that I’m thoroughly enjoying it. How did this happen? The answer lies in the all-time cliché, “Research is not the same as class!”. I’d heard this phrase countless times at student panels, at professional development workshops, and at talks by many faculty but I’d never paid much attention to it. The truth is that it doesn’t have much meaning until you experience it yourself.

Over the summer, my project is to synthesize six different sequences of a protein-like polymer that could be used to prevent biomineralization in the body. When I started the project, my mentor gave me an overview of the reactions I’d be working with. As she explained the reaction mechanisms and the reasoning for the reagents and the conditions, it all made sense! I was able to follow and understand, and even question why some things would be one way and not the other. As the summer progressed, things got even better. I saw myself writing “prelabs” for the experiments I would do. I started writing the motivation for my reactions, the background from the literature, the goals for my experiments, the reaction mechanisms, the general steps, even the table of reagents (complete with drawn structures!). And instead of it being a chore, it was something I enjoyed.

All in all, the things that caused so many restless nights of work and study now have meaning. So this is my take-away message: Do not get discouraged by how well you do in a class or by how much you dislike the instruction, instead, allow yourself to learn as best as you can and remember that the world of research is full of surprises, and you may find yourself enjoying a subject that you thought you “hated”.

Proof that I really do enjoy what I’m doing!