Written by Dom Siriani
My scientific research experience began as an undergraduate student after I was encouraged to pursue the opportunity by my academic adviser. I contacted a few professors who were working on topics that sounded interesting to me, and a short time later I began working for my permanent research adviser. That undergraduate experience provided me the opportunity to explore several different topics without being tied to a single project, gave me a glimpse into graduate life, and exposed me to the excitement of novel scientific discovery. Looking back on that time, it’s entirely likely that without taking that first step into research, I would have ended up with an entirely different career that I wouldn’t be nearly as passionate about.
With my personal experience, it’s probably no great surprise that I’m very supportive of undergraduate research. Even at the time I was an undergraduate researcher, I was encouraging friends of mine to seek out similar opportunities. From my perspective, there was nothing to lose: if you didn’t like the research experience, there was no serious commitment, but if you loved it, you started down a very exciting path to your future life’s pursuit. I think my viewpoint at the time was correct. Several of my friends became involved in research activities as undergraduates. Some of them went on to graduate school, while others decided it wasn’t for them and found other great careers that they love. However, I believe all of them would say that undergraduate research was a worthwhile experience.
As a graduate student, I also got to see things from a different perspective. Frankly, undergraduates a lot of times are great to have around the lab. They of course shoulder some of the burden of tedious lab work. More than that, though, they provide the opportunity to mentor really talented young scientists. And along with this comes the chance to scout out the really gifted folks and recruit them to work alongside you. So, I can say that my experience has been that undergraduate research programs provide a truly mutually beneficial experience.
Laser Science at the FiO/LS conference will have a symposium on undergraduate research. This provides these young scientists-in-training the opportunity to present their research work and get a taste of the fantastic experience of being part of a larger laser and optics research community. There will be both a poster session and an oral presentation session. I encourage those who will be at the conference to show their support for these emerging researchers by attending these sessions. After all, to paraphrase a friend, colleague, and mentor of mine, professors are just older, more experienced post-docs, and post-docs are just older, more experienced grad students. So, by extension, isn’t any professional researcher just an older, more experienced undergraduate researcher?
Disclaimer: Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the United States Government and MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Posted: 9/26/2012 1:45:59 PM by
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