Reflections on an undergraduate research project

Reflections on an undergraduate research project
Snippet of my research poster from my undergraduate project

Throughout the final semester of my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to be able to work on a chemistry research project with Prof Blanchfield of UQ SCMB. Before starting the project, I hypothesised how I might have wanted to act to contribute to the project and develop my scientific skills. These can be found in this post on starting a research project. Now in retrospect, there are two behaviours that were effective and two new behaviours that I will take forward into my honours year of research.

- If there is a spectrum from "100% Self-sufficient <-----> 100% dependent on others", then aim to be marginally towards the self-sufficient side
- Be in control of the things I can control (e.g. getting things done, being diligent, being punctual, being active)

These two points were mentioned in my previous post and looking back, they were the best things that I decided to do. By being more self-sufficient, I was able to have more responsibility for my research. However, being comfortable with asking for help when I truly needed it allowed me to stay in a state where I was slightly uncomfortable but not overwhelmed. By being in control of my punctuality, diligence and engagement, I was able to enjoy the experience. Furthermore, the kind lab-mates who helped me were eager to explain techniques to me because I was demonstrating my interest and commitment through my actions.

- Be selective about the questions that you ask
- Learn more about productivity systems

As I embark on an honours research project in 2024, I will try and incorporate these two tips which I realised through the undergrad project. I found a good technique that allowed me to be selective in my questioning. While something was being explained I would write down questions in my lab notebook. Then before asking questions, I would have an initial think about whether I could figure out the solution before asking for help. This technique allowed me to cull out weak questions and facilitate my learning by allowing me to make connections between new stimuli and my prior knowledge. In addition, this makes it easier for the person training me because my questions are more likely to be of higher quality. Productivity systems really stuck out to me because, in my undergraduate project, I spent around 60 hours in the laboratory. In my honours, I will have to spend much more time in the lab. Therefore, I am aware that by being conscious of productive techniques and systems, I will be able to make more meaningful use of my time in the laboratory.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend taking an undergraduate research/summer research project if you have that option and research interests you. By coming into it with an open mindset and willingness to make mistakes, I knew that I would very quickly be able to tell if research is something I enjoy and whether it is worth considering career wise.