By Alex Clonan, Peer Research Ambassador
Getting started in undergraduate research can be an overwhelming (but exciting!) process. You are learning how to answer scientific questions, meeting new people, and gaining background knowledge on an entirely new field!
While all of these are exciting ventures, it’s important to remember that you are still a student, and you have to take care of yourself.
During my time as an undergraduate researcher, I have found that one of the biggest challenges in getting acclimated is time management and burnout. I struggled with it over my years in research, and have known many peers who have as well.
However, it’s important to realize that research can take different forms and time management has a learning curve.
In considering research experiences, think about how much time you realistically can dedicate while comfortably managing your classes, extracurriculars, jobs, etc. For me, it was just stopping in at lab meetings and checking in with my PI once a week to go over relevant readings. I was able to learn about the material that was going on, but didn’t overwhelm myself. With any research experience it’s an important conversation to have with your PI, weighting how much time you have, what you want to get out of the experience, and what the lab needs. Or, if you don’t have the ability to balance it during the semester, that’s okay! There are amazing research opportunities over the summer where you can get involved as well.
While I started off just coming to lab meetings, as time went on I gradually kept coming into lab more. The semester after, I talked with my PI about helping out on a different project. I picked classes specifically to open up time where I could help out in the wet lab. I continued with this process through my undergraduate career. I took getting involved one step at a time, incrementing until I was in a place where I was comfortable with what I was getting out of my experience and fulfilling the needs of my lab.
With that being said, there are still times that can be challenging and all research experiences will be different than my own. Imagine you have a gauntlet of exams, events for your extracurriculars, or life happens at an inopportune time. I’ve been there as well! I cannot express enough how important it is to have open communication with your lab and mentors. Be transparent and be honest. I was fortunate enough to have amazing mentors who guided me through when I was getting overwhelmed. Your mentors are there for more than just academic information. They can advocate for you and support you along your research journey.
While research can be daunting, time consuming, and difficult, it has the ability to provide you experiences unlike any other – especially so at an R1 institution like UConn. Don’t let fear of time management dissuade you from getting involved. There are different capacities and opportunities for everyone. And even when times do get tough – just remember take it one step at a time, communicate with your mentors, and take time for yourself.
Alex is a senior majoring in Electrical Engineering and Molecular & Cell Biology. Click here to learn more about Alex.