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Should I continue with research?

  1. May 5, 2012 #1
    Some background:

    I first became interested in research in high school after doing a field biology research program. I did bird banding and some water quality work and absolutely LOVED it. I loved being outdoors, loved the teacher, loved the other students, and learned to love birds. This was a very important experience in my life and really motivated me. I later discovered my passion for math and physics and have since decided to direct my passion for science and research in that direction. Field research in biology, although enjoyable, lacks the quantitative aspect that I would like to have.

    Current situation:

    I'm a freshman and have been working in a neurobiology lab for the past semester. Before starting in the lab I was 100% sure that I wanted to pursue a career in research, I just wasn't sure exactly which area I found most interesting. I spent the first semester looking around for a position and finally found one, but I am pretty disappointed with my experience so far (for a couple of reasons). This is devastating for me, and I realize now how naive I was to think that I could join a lab and just magically be passionate about whatever I was doing.

    I'm an engineering major and therefore the PI didn't give me the traditional beginning undergrad tasks of pipeting, prepping, etc. and I consider myself very fortunate in that respect. Instead, I started with a "computer modeling" project, though it's not quite what one would traditionally consider computer modeling. I spend 12 hours a week messing with numbers and graphs in excel and find it VERY boring. It's very theoretical and I think this part of the reason I don't find it interesting. I am hoping that I will be able to actually begin programming this summer, but it doesn't look very promising. It seems as though my mentor doesn't think I am capable of learning the programming... this bothers me. Though more realistically, he probably just doesn't have the time to sit down and teach it to me or maybe a little bit of both. Also, I thought that I was okay with working indoors in a lab 100% of the time, but I am beginning to realize otherwise.

    I realize that research is very tedious most of the time but how will I know if lab work is "right" for me? Should I just give it more time? After all, I've only been in the lab for a semester.

    My other option would be to try to go back to doing some type of field work. I find earth science interesting. The mix of field work and lab analysis/modeling in geophysics is very appealing. Should I consider trying to find a position in this field?

    As you can see, I'm very confused right now and would appreciate any advice... especially from someone who has been in a similar situation. I'm sorry if I rambled on quite a bit in this post but I find this somewhat therapeutic, and if you actually read this entire post, I applaud you :redface:

  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2012 #2


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    Science Advisor

    Hey jbrussell93.

    For your situation I would talk to people that actually work 'in the lab' and get their honest to god evaluation of what they do on a daily basis.

    One thing I can say though is that research is varied in every field, and because of this there will always be opportunities for people to do specific kinds of work over others and this just not a phenomenon only for research: it is across the board for every kind of career and endeavor generally.

    In terms of research, I reckon there has to be a role with your name of it where you don't sit in front of a computer but instead do more hands on work and work in the lab.

    So find out other people who do research in your field and get their honest to god opinion if you can actually get it. Unfortunately sometimes getting an honest to god opinion is not easy for various reasons: some people might complain too much that their job sucks and some people might under-complain about their job and even convince themselves that everything is just dandy.

    If you don't get responses here you could search the internet for 'horror' stories or just other forums and blogs of people ranting in their own way. Other than this, speak to your professors and the grad students about this.

    Again though if you speak to people you know (and they know you), then be diplomatic about it. Don't just start off with a spiel about how 'computer research sucks' and all that: just ask them about alternatives with the hands on stuff and don't voice your frustrations about how something 'sucks' because people take things personally and people filter things accordingly which will do neither you nor them any good.

    Also remember that many people spend a major part of their life figuring out 'what they like' as well as 'what they think they like', so keep that in mind as well that you may not see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow straight away.
  4. May 5, 2012 #3
    Chiro, I certainly appreciate your advice. This was all very helpful for me.

    I will definitely continue to talk with some professors and students and try to get a better idea of what I may enjoy. Maybe, after seeing what my mentor has in store for me this summer, I'll ask him about what my next step may be. After all, I chose this lab in the first place mainly because I was told that I would be able to try many things in the lab such as building some equipment, working in the wetlab growing neurons, computer modeling, etc... I told him upfront that I was unsure exactly what interested me.

    Again, I greatly appreciate your response
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