Friday, March 19, 2010

Independent Research--Not Just For Science Majors

Independent Research doesn't have to involve flasks and beakers. Every department at the University has offerings for students willing--and wanting--to go the extra distance. By utilizing these opportunities, students can have hands-on experiences, lending to better understanding of the material. Also, some independent research courses give students an idea of what certain careers would be like. For example, I joined a research group in the Biology department, and I tell everyone who asks me about it the same thing: I've taken coursework labs and research labs and the difference is textbook French to visiting France. You will learn quicker and more thoroughly if you immerse yourself in a real situation rather than textbook scenarios.

This is where I have spent many an hour working with Silene latifolia. Some days it's exhilarating, and other days I need a break from seeing eight hundred plants.

How Hard Is It To Get Involved?

Anyone at UVa who wants participate in research can. It's as simple as that. I don't know a single person who has genuinely wanted to do research that hasn't found a mentor. That's actually one of the best parts about UVa: you can get involved in a professor's research or a graduate student's research. Having graduate students expands the opportunities at least ten fold. A friend of mine works on the effect nematodes have on bees. Pictured right is a worker on a flower.

When Can I Get Involved?
Anytime you want to. I know first years who joined labs, and I joined my second year. I will say this caveat, though. Don't wait too long. Being in research typically takes two semesters at least (one semester to train, one to two to design and work on your project), so don't wait until your final year to join.

Where Do I Even Begin?
On many department directories, there's a link that says something to the effect of "Meet the Faculty." Click on that and read about what each professor is doing. For example, if you go to , you'll see a full list of biology professors and a short explanation on what each one researches. If you then click on the individual names, you can see a longer description of their work in addition to the lab's homepage. There, you can read about the projects happening within that lab. Here's the homepage for the lab I joined:

What Can I Do Before I Enroll in UVa?
Whenever I would give summer tours and someone asked about research, I took them to the faculty directory and started writing down names, email addresses, phone numbers, and building numbers. Whenever you visit UVa, the professors are there--even in the summer. Why not spend time talking to professors while you're at UVa anyway? They're very friendly and approachable. They love students with initiative and will very willingly set up appointments to chat. As far as resources, current students and professors are some of your greatest. They're who you'll be working with on a daily basis. For me, when I went on a tour, I wasn't completely sold on UVa. I knew it was a nice place to look at and a good school, but I wasn't convinced this was where I wanted to be. Then I visited a microbiology class and was immediately ready to sign the enrollment paperwork. By luck, the class was going over a test they had taken last
time, and the professor let me have a copy to follow along during class.

So yes, visit the school, talk to the professors, take a class, interact with the students. It's the best litmus test a high school student has for determining how a college will be before attending it.

Never be afraid to notice the unusual and ask why.

Pictured left is a cluster of all white phlox flowers in my garden. My best guess is that there must be genetic co-dominance that allows some to be striped and others to be a solid color. I apologize for the slight jargon. I am a biology geek.

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