The Importance of Connecting With Your PI

By Alexandra Bettencourt, Peer Research AmbassadorThe Importance of Connecting With Your PI. By PRA Alexandra.

I will never forget my first academic advising appointment as a freshman at UConn, because it was there that I met a mentor who would help to shape the entirety of my academic career. Prior to meeting Dr. Sarah Reed for the first time, I had read her faculty biography to learn more about her. After skimming her qualifications and publications, my eighteen-year-old self, that had just begun taking BIO 1107, was a bit intimidated by her scientific accomplishments. These feelings melted away within minutes of meeting her, as she welcomed me with a smile and genuine enthusiasm for helping guide me through my academic career and accomplish my lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian.

Dr. Reed encouraged me throughout the beginning of my college career, as I began independent studies evaluating mastitis in dairy heifers at the Kellogg Dairy Center and in the necropsy laboratory at the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory. It was not until my junior year that everything fell just into place for me to join the Reed laboratory. I feel that by joining a research project and working under a faculty member that I already had an established relationship with, I was able to set myself up for success knowing the incredible amount of support I had behind me. As I have pursued my own project, evaluating the effects of poor maternal nutrition on sheep lactation, Dr. Reed, as a principal investigator, has played a vital role in guiding me through the research process, while allowing me to pursue my own areas of interest and to learn by trial and error. By having a PI that I feel so comfortable with, I have found research to be such a rewarding experience, not only academically, but personally. We have shared laughs, a passion for working with animals, and on a particularly trying week last winter, Dr. Reed brought a bag of Hershey Kisses for the members of our team to share at our weekly lab meeting. Finding a PI that connects to you personally is so important in having a positive research experience.

As I look back on the past few years, I realize how much I have learned since that first biology course. I also look back, and remember that first meeting with Dr. Reed. Beyond everything I have learned scientifically through research, I have also learned something that may arguably be just as important: faculty are people too, and they want to see you succeed. It can be so intimidating as an undergraduate, just hoping to get a chance to accomplish your goals and achieve great things. Principal investigators were once undergraduates, searching for opportunity, just as we do now. The value in finding a PI that also serves as a compassionate mentor simply cannot be understated. As we head into advising season for the spring semester, remember that your academic advisor could be so much more than the person who tells you what classes to take. My academic advisor has become my thesis advisor, PI, and mentor, and has been a pivotal role model in shaping my academic experience and future career.

Alexandra is a senior double majoring in Pathobiology and Animal Science. Click here to learn more about Alexandra.