Do you struggle with knowing what you actually want to do in the career path you are headed down? You are not alone, I myself struggled finding a niche in my degree of Environmental Engineering, and I kept going back and forth on what to do after graduation. “Do I want to conduct remediation projects, design wastewater treatment facilities, or maintain regulations at state or federal levels?”
I was lucky enough to learn about multiple paths I could take via internships, but it was not until I volunteered in Dr. Wang’s wastewater lab that I started seriously narrowing down where I really could see my career going. No matter what department you are in on campus there are tons of undergraduate research projects to jump into. Every department has their own unique projects ranging from chemical uptake to composite manufacturing research. The biology department even conducts experiments on cockroaches. Whatever your department, there are undergraduate research opportunities available.
The OURE, Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experiences is a program that can help students find research opportunities. Students also have the option to help in labs without being a part of the OURE program, but this is extremely dependent on which professor’s laboratory it is. One good way to start helping with research is simply asking your professors after class if you can help with their research. Asking them in person is a big deal, professors love it when students talk to them in person. After this it is a good idea to send them what I like to call a courtesy email. A courtesy email is something you type up after an interaction with a professor, or any professional for that matter about something that would be considered pertinent but easily forgotten due to the immense amount of work professors do during the day.
My courtesy email consisted of a simple,
“Hello Dr. Wang,
I spoke to you yesterday about working in your wastewater lab and I am still interested in doing so if possible. Please let me know if you would like to meet up and discuss the matter more. I am available on Thursday at 10 AM, 2 PM, and 3PM.
The next thing I knew, I was receiving an email from the PhD student working in the lab asking when I can come into the lab so he could train me. In less than two weeks, I was learning hands on about the chemistry and the process of wastewater reactors and the necessary tests and maintenance that need to be done to keep them working properly.
After helping out in the wastewater lab I decided to apply for consulting internships in environmental engineering and I was thrilled to accept an offer with Jacobs Engineering Group where I met multiple professionals but I realized towards the end of the summer that I found myself gravitating towards the design process of water and wastewater treatment. I also realized that I never would have had the courage to even apply to consulting companies without the experience and the many conversations I had in the research lab.
I have now worked in this lab for a full year and will be working for a second this school year through the OURE program. I am getting more responsibilities and the chance to start really diving into the actual scientific method of the project and start understanding why Dr. Wang and Ken Campbell chose the process that they did. No matter what, finding your niche is important to Missouri S&T and they will help you find it. It could be on a design team, finding the perfect internship through COER (Career Opportunities and Employer Relations), or undergraduate research. All it takes is a few questions and you will be pushed in the right direction. For me, it was research that truly boosted my confidence enough to figure out what I wanted to do. So, with that, I truly believe students will benefit from research 110% of the time.