No matter your career path, research is a good experience to partake in, especially in the sciences. It teaches you how to answer a question, typically involves interesting people, and builds character. That it also looks good on a resume is an added bonus.
For all these reasons, Rutgers has the Aresty Center to pair students with research opportunities around the university. This past academic year, I took part in one of their programs: the Research Assistant Program. As it culminated a few weeks ago in a symposium, I figured I’d reflect on the experience.
To preface this, I was not your normal Aresty Candidate. When I applied, I had a year and a half research internship in high school and another year’s worth of experience in a lab at Rutgers. My lab’s principal investigator (PI) signed up to be a part of Aresty and encouraged the undergraduates in the lab to apply. After looking into the program, I applied for the opportunity for a fellowship and the peer group meetings. Obviously, I was accepted to work in the lab I had been working in for the past year.
Starting in the fall, there was a project proposal to write, a meeting to attend every two weeks, and five hours of research to do every week. I was also doing research for credit, since I work in a biology lab and it’s pretty much impossible to do anything productive in just five hours a week.
In the fall, the peer group discussions focused primarily on putting research in perspective: what’s ethical both in conducting and communicating your research? How do they deem what research is important in terms of funding? How do humanities fit into the spectrum (everyone in my group was in some sort of Biology lab)? These questions led to some interesting discussions, particularly about the last question. As the semester progressed, we also practiced presenting our research. In the spring, we expanded the work on presenting skills while also discussing how to write a good abstract, make figures for posters, and explain very specific research to people outside our respective fields.
This culminated in the Rutgers Research Symposium on April 29 in the Livingston Student Center. There were several hundred students, several hundred posters, and only four hours to see them. The judges consist of professors, alumni, and people from various industries. In other words, after working for a year, you get to stand and talk about what you did for two hours. It’s nice because there’s a bit of a confidence both from being able to explain something complicated that you did and also because people looking at your poster for the first time will ask questions that may give you a new perspective.
Over the past year, this experience has introduced me to new people, helped me develop a better relationship with my PI, and pushed me into developing a deeper understanding of the projects we work on in the lab. For people with little research experience, seeking more friends who do research, or simply curious about the different kinds of research there are, the Aresty program is great. However, if you are in a lab, choose to independently structure your research time. If you are content with your current ability to communicate research (or have/will be taking Scientific and Technical Writing), then you’re probably better off applying for an Aresty Fellowship, which provides money for your research and still requires you to participate in the symposium (which I highly recommend).
Overall, I found my Aresty experience to be very beneficial to me on all fronts and while applications have closed for most of their programs in the coming year, I highly recommend applying for one of their fellowships in the fall or another of their programs in the coming year. It’s a good way to practice communicating with those within and outside of your field as well as a good way to meet new people.