The end of an experience is a great time to reflect on your learning. With every research experience you will gain new skills, learn more about the type of environment you enjoy being in, further explore your strengths and interests, and test out your motivation to further study or pursue a career in a field or discipline. In some cases, a research experience teaches you what you don’t want moving forward; this is an equally valuable learning experience that you need to recognize and use when evaluating what’s next.
Consider these questions, or those in the boxes below, to guide your reflection and prepare for conversations with your mentors to discuss your next steps.
- What is your overall reaction to and impression of your experience? Is this a subject you see yourself continuing to study? Is this research you would like to build on?
- How does your current knowledge of the work compare to what you imagined it would be like going into the experience? Did anything surprise you? Are there differences between what you thought it would be like and what it was actually like?
- Did you learn something about the field that you didn’t know before? Does this new knowledge impact your opinion of the work and motivation to further engage in research in the discipline?
- Consider your day-to-day tasks – what tasks did you find came easy to you/you did well at, and what tasks did you struggle with? Of those tasks you did well, did you enjoy them? If there were tasks you struggled with, are these areas where you want to challenge yourself to learn more and improve?
- What did you learn about yourself – your strengths and weaknesses – through engaging in a research experience? How do you plan to use this knowledge in navigating future endeavors?
- I learned...
- I learned this when...
- This matters because...
- I will use this knowledge to...
- What? (What did I learn?)
- So what? (Why does it matter?)
- Now what? (How will I build on this learning?)
What Have I Learned About…
- The process of research or creative activity?
- Myself, my strengths, and my areas for growth?
- How I learn and what conditions support my learning?
- My educational goals and career goals?
Then and Now
- What have I come to see differently because of my experience with this project?
- What do I know now that I didn't know then?
- What do I know now about what I don't know?
- How did I develop these skills through my engagement in this project?
- How did I demonstrate these skills through my engagement in this project?
Critical thinking/problem solving
Self-awareness career management
As your research experience is coming to a close, make a point to meet with your supervisor/faculty mentor to discuss the experience, your goals and interests, and next steps. Faculty mentors are a wonderful source of guidance, inspiration, and referrals. Go into this conversation with clear ideas as to what you enjoyed most about your research experience, how you want to incorporate or build on to the experience moving forward, and how the opportunity has shaped your goals and interests.
Sample conversation starter:
During my experience working with you, I’ve found that I’m drawn towards and most enjoy ______________ (doing/researching/analyzing/assisting with)__________ (task or topic). In thinking about how I can build on this experience, and taking into account my goal of ________________, I want to gain additional _________ (experience/skills/knowledge) in _____________ (researching/exploring/analyzing)__________ (topic). I’m wondering if you have suggestions on next steps that will help me _____________ (learn/gain experience in/expand my skills) in____________ (task or topic). As always, I sincerely appreciate any guidance you’re able to provide me.
Always thank everyone who contributed to your learning during a research experience. Hand-written thank you notes go a long way in demonstrating your appreciation and cementing your relationship with faculty mentors, supervisors, and TAs.
But the relationship doesn’t end there. Keep in touch by periodically sending updates and reminding them how they contributed to your learning and impacted your direction. Maintaining relationships is essential to having a rich pool of valued mentors you can draw from when seeking guidance or letters of recommendation.