I would like to preface by saying none of this is intended to come off as a brag or boast post. I am very eager to share my experience due to the number of questions I have received from friends as well as my enthusiasm for this opportunity.
Sophomore year I was eager for research experience and advice on graduate school. I combed some of the listed open resarch positions, but due to poor timing, I was just past the deadlines of most summer internships. Still motivated to find out more, I combed through the graduate student profiles of the Bren School of Environmental Science. What followed was about 20 emails explaining my current interests, my future goals, and asking for a meeting.
From those 20 emails I got 3 replies. One of which was Alexa.
Alexa took me under her wing without question. She spent her undergraduate at Princeton and was pursuing a phD at UCSB in species modeling and distribution related science. She told me that the most valuable part of her undergraduate education was her senior thesis, which she believes was critical in her acceptance into graduate programs.
Junior year, I followed up with her offer to help me find a subject for the thesis. The rest was history.
Alexa was correct: an opportunity to create independent resarch is a challenge you can never experience in a college class.
I highly encourage pursuing a senior for the following reasons:
- A thesis allows you the opportunity to decide if you are interested in graduate school. Independent resarch is a different experience for everyone. Just because you are a great student does not mean you are a great researcher and vise versa.
- Chances are high you can earn units in your department for the work you are doing. I earned 12 units in the Earth Science Department. Believe me, those units were well deserved.
- It allows you the opportunity to make more connections outside of your school. If you take your resarch to a conference or publish it online, it is shocking how many people will be interested. Find those connections!
- You will become extremely educated on recent publications and resarch in your field.
- Learn how to make a poster! Most universities have undergraduate poster shows for resarch at the end of the year. Take advantage! It may be a painful experience at first but it will be a skill I promise you will use in the future.
- You probably will become a more effective communicator, especially with academic audiences. My emails are more concise and effective than they ever have been. I credit this to having an incredibly busy advisor who was frequently hard to reach.
Setting individual goals was KEY to staying on track for the year. Each quarter had a different focus: My first quarter I conducted a literature review and created a proposal. My second quarter I conducted the analysis and modeling and gathering data. My third and final quarter I spend analyzing all the data I gathered and actually WRITING. Boy was it a lot of writing
Keeping detailed notes of everything was also integral. When the project spans a YEAR it is shockingly easy to forget a lot of your methods. I had OneNote constantly open for the whole of my second quarter, where I just dumped everything I was doing.
Having an advisor that is supportive without being controlling is amazing. I feel so lucky to be in the minority that had not one but two great advisors, both of which had so many intelligent ideas and sage words of wisdom. I relied on them, sometimes more than others, and they now will be connections for the rest of my life. I hope to do the same for eager undergraduates someday.
If the thought has ever crossed your mind- DO IT. Please. It is exhausting and challenging but SO REWARDING. If you have an idea, follow it, find someone to foster your growth, and run into it with open arms.