So You Want to Do Research. Now What?

— ANGELICA DZIURZYNSKI  

When you think of research, most of the time you think of master’s or PhD programs. But what about undergraduates? UNH actually has several opportunities for undergrads to conduct their own research, which is one of the reasons I chose to come here. Having the opportunity to create your own research project as an undergraduate is a great way to get involved with a subject you’re interested in and learn more about that specific field. It also allows you to make lasting connections with professors and other students, as well as opens the door to graduate programs or jobs. All of this may sound fantastic, but how do you even start to come up with a project?

I came to UNH as a marine, estuarine, and freshwater biology major because I knew that I wanted to do undergraduate research, but I had no idea where to even start. It was the fall of my sophomore year, and although I now know that I wasn’t behind, it felt like everyone else was leagues ahead of me in terms of doing research. I hadn’t found a professor to be my mentor, I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, and it felt like time was slipping away.

My “existential crisis” over research continued throughout the semester, but I realized that there was one class that always reminded me why I wanted to do research in the first place. I took a class titled Dynamic Earth (ESCI 401) with Dr. Julie Bryce that fall, and she was so engaging that I found myself in awe at the end of every class. Dr. Bryce was everything that I imagined my future self to be, and at that moment I knew that I wanted to join her lab. At the end of the semester, I finally worked up the courage to ask her if there were any positions available in her lab group. I remember being so nervous to ask, but she was more than happy to take me on!

When we came back to campus for the spring semester, Dr. Bryce and I sat down and talked about what my interests were. But as we talked, we realized that our interests didn’t line up as much as we thought they would. I was discouraged since the only connection I had made with a professor wasn’t going to work out. But to my surprise, Dr. Bryce suggested that I talk with one of her colleagues, Dr. Ruth Varner, and look into the Hamel Center’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. I nervously agreed to meet with Dr. Varner, and the rest is history.

Almost two years later, I’m working on my second independent research project with Dr. Varner. My research is related to methane and carbon dioxide emissions from local peatlands and reservoirs. Not only have I worked on my own research projects and overcome the challenges of a fully remote project during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also I’ve helped collect samples for graduate students in my lab, which has taught me more about my field of study. Through my research, I’ve been able to present at UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference and present at the 2021 American Geophysical Union Conference in New Orleans. These opportunities have been unforgettable, and I’ve learned so much from my lab. My whole college experience changed because I talked to one of my professors about research, and even though she wasn’t the right person, she got me to where I am now and I’m forever thankful to her.

So my advice to you is this: don’t be afraid to reach out. Professors may seem intimidating, but they’re most likely willing to help. And if they can’t help, then hopefully they’ll point you towards someone who can.