Research as an Undergraduate Student
Research - is it for you and where do you start?
Are you wondering what opportunities there are for research as an undergrad student at CSU? I was wondering the same thing when I first started looking at CSU. I knew that I wanted to do research, but I had no idea where to start or if I was ready for it. In this blog I will share what my research has taught me, and I’ll give you some tips and tricks so you can get started too!
I’m Connor Witt, and I’m a third-year Chemical and Biological Engineering student here at Colorado State University. I have been a research assistant at CSU’s Biomaterials Research and Engineering Laboratory (BREL) for a little over a year now. I was certainly intimidated by research before I started looking into it, but I was pleasantly surprised at the vast amount of opportunities, welcoming attitudes, and help provided by my lab directors.
Why research? Is it for me?
More likely than not, you have been in a class where you thought, “When am I ever going to use this outside of this class? Do I seriously have to read 5 more chapters of this textbook?” I know that I have. At times this can be frustrating, for I know that I learn much better in a laboratory setting than I do from a textbook. I also know that I personally learn the most when I have a problem and have to find a way to fix it. If this sounds like you, definitely start looking into research! Even if you don’t think this relates to you, you should give it a shot; you may be surprised with how much you can learn and how much you can enjoy working on problems that very few have before. In addition, the communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills that you will undoubtedly learn will give you the necessary skills to aid you in finding internships and even jobs.
This is a picture from a scanning electron microscope (SEM). This million+ dollar piece of equipment is just one of many that I have been able to use at my time in BREL. I certainly learned more this day than I ever would have through a textbook. In addition, I have learned how to use a wide range of modeling and rendering software that I would not have learned otherwise (see below).
Am I ready to do research?
Research, especially here at CSU, is a key point in the engineering process. You can’t make progress in the world without taking the first steps! If you are just starting your research journey you may find this statement intimidating – I know that I certainly did. However, the simple truth is that, as scientists and engineers, you have been practicing research for years. Throughout coursework, homework, and projects, you have more likely than not had a problem and had to seek out a solution. That there is key principle to research, and so you will be pleasantly surprised to find that your “research mindset” is already there, and all you need is the technical knowledge.
Regardless of what courses you have taken, there will always be a learning curve when you get into a research lab. Specific compounds, terms, and scientific tests will ultimately be unfamiliar to you. Don’t get discouraged though! This is where your lab directors and fellow lab assistants save the day. From my own experience at the BREL, I can say that many – if not all – of your peers are here to help, since they will probably need help with different things themselves!
My team has been working on making 3D-printed artificial bone implants to help those with degenerative bone diseases. Pictured above is one of our scaffolds being printed. Before coming to this lab, I knew little to nothing about 3D-printing. Now, I can design, print, and modify structures – something that I would not have likely known how to do otherwise. You can read more about this research here.
Where do I begin?
The very first step in your research experience is to find laboratories that you are interested in – trust me, it makes the work so much more satisfying when you find it interesting! You can check out some of the engineering laboratories here.
If you can’t directly find a laboratory you are interested in, you can always take a look at your department’s homepage and look at the different professors listed. More likely than not, professors within your discipline will have a research lab that could interest you. Also make sure to check out other departments too; you would be surprised just how interdisciplinary these research teams truly are. For example, there are biomedical/mechanical, material science, chemical and biological, and biomedical/chemical and biological engineers on my team alone!
Once you figure out what you want to do or in what lab you would like to work, you are done with the hard part. Now, all you have to do is contact the lab director. Luckily, there are many ways you can make this happen. The first and most direct option is to email the lab director saying you’re interested in their work and would love to help out, attaching a resume too! If you need help with this step or need someone to check over a resume, make sure to contact the engineering success center. This is probably the most common way to get involved.
If you would prefer a different method, CSU has three other programs to help students get involved.
- The first is OURA, the Office for Undergraduate Research and Artistry (you can contact them via email: TILT_OURA@mail.colostate.edu). From there, you can set up one-on-one appointments and discuss your interests and options for getting involved in research.
- The next program is the Honors Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (HURS). This program will help you get set up with a faculty mentor, where you will perform research and grow your professional boundaries (see this website for more). Make sure to apply before the April deadline!
- The last common program to get undergraduates involved in research is the Scott Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). This program helps recipients of the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering Undergraduate Scholarship and first generation students to connect with faculty mentors and even provides funding! You can read more about it here.
Then all you have to do is wait! It’s that simple. I did this exact process the summer after freshman year expecting no one to want my help, but I was surprised to see that many of the labs I contacted wanted to have me in for a short interview! And just like that, I had a research position as a second-year student, and I am incredibly grateful for it today.
In short, research here at CSU is a lot easier to get involved in than you may expect. Professors here certainly can use your help, and the professional and educational lessons you learn are invaluable. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet in research, trust me, the water isn’t cold! Always feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about getting involved in research here at CSU.
Author: Connor Witt
Connor is a third-year Chemical and Biological Engineering student. He is an Engineering Student Ambassador, an undergraduate research assistant, and a member of the university Honors program. He is from Monument, Colorado.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the engineering ambassador team at email@example.com!