Undergraduate Research: A Student’s Perspective
One unique aspect of Missouri S&T is that students are required to fulfill an experiential learning requirement before graduating. This requirement helps ensure that students from the University will leave with not only the knowledge they gain from their classes, but also knowledge about real-life experiences from “learning by doing.” Fortunately, there are many ways to fulfill this requirement. Some common ways students gain this experience is through internships, co-ops, student design teams, study abroad, and leadership positions.
While these are all great options, one unique way students can learn by doing is through participation in undergraduate research. One of the amazing things about undergraduate research is that there are multiple departments available to choose from which offers great variety, making it easy to find at least one project of interest.
One Missouri S&T Biology major, Taylor Stevens, is currently working in a research lab with Dr. Julie Semon and a team of other undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Semon and her team’s mission is to study stem cells and how to correct them. They are testing this by using biomaterials and chicken eggs to test for different concepts such as angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) as a model for learning about stem cell repair.
As an undergraduate researcher, Taylor started out in the lab using microscopic pictures of embryos and counting the number of branching vesicles in those embryos. As she has progressed in the lab, she has learned how to take on many new tasks. Now a junior, she has learned how to autoclave umbilical water that they put the eggs in, prepare containers, prepare the scaffold biomaterials to place in the egg, and how to physically crack the eggs. One concern many students have when considering undergraduate research is the time commitment. However, depending on the research, it can take up less time than one might expect. In Taylor’s case, a typical week in research generally consists of her going to the lab when she has any free time to help in any way that she can. Research professors understand that their undergraduate students are taking other classes, and they can be very flexible when it comes to helping students schedule lab time.
For anyone interested in undergraduate research, it can be difficult to know where to start or how to get involved. Taylor became interested in the idea of undergraduate research when she heard about Dr. Semon’s TBI research in mice. Once that initial interest is sparked, getting involved can be as simple as talking to professors about their research and asking to participate. Taylor described that, “to become involved in research, I scheduled a meeting with Dr. Semon and she explained to me all the different research projects that she is involved in. After that she set up training and set up flexible schedules that worked for us.”
It can be easy to perceive undergraduate research as complicated or daunting; however, asking questions and exploring one’s interests are the best ways to get involved in using undergraduate research for the experiential learning requirement. For any student interested in this potential opportunity, Taylor recommends, “get involved early and do not be afraid to get involved! The earlier the better because you have more time to learn. I always thought I should not because I was not smart enough or I did not know anything about it but you learn literally everything as you go.”