On choosing the perfect project

By Mason Sun

When I started to search for an area of research right for me, it felt like trying to pick the right snacks at a concession stand when I knew I was already late for the movie. Summer was approaching, and I still had not decided on my major, let alone picked a research topic. Consequently, I took the “shotgun” method; I decided to apply to several positions, and make my decision based on what I was offered. This allowed me to simply go out and experience research. To make a long story short, I ended up at a research-intensive academy, and everything that I thought research would be was not actually what it was. In the lab, I worked extensively with the model organism Arabidopsis. My regular day as a RA (research assistant) ranged from pedantic work, such as making agar growth media, to sushi buffet outings.

So, what intrigued me most about research?plants_mason

I think it was seeing the concepts and methodologies that I learned in class being applied to actual experiments. However, that was not my biggest revelation about scientific research. Since my lab was adjacent to the biomedical, agriculture, and genomics departments, the interns from these various departments would usually meet at lunch – yes, the interns became a clique among the academically-certified scholars. Despite our different research topics, the lab techniques that we all used were identical. I ran PCR on Arabidopsis, someone else ran it on Drosophila, and another intern on Oryza. What I realized was that there is a positive externality to research – no matter which lab an individual works in, the techniques that are learned can be applied to a totally different area of research, should there ever be a change of heart.

Mason Sun is a U2 Chemistry student, and a member of the MSURJ editorial board.

(Photo courtesy of Mason Sun)

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