MSRE Week Seven: Learning the Ropes of the Research Process

One of the most rewarding (and challenging) aspects of being a McNair Scholar is having the opportunity to conduct a full scale independent research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor. This experience is kind of a mini graduate school boot camp as students are expected to learn, research, and report on a project that they complete in ten weeks time. Just like graduate students, Scholars are expected to be reliable, accurate, and independent thinkers–the same attributes that McNair Scholars gain and learn during the UNL McNair Summer Research Experience.

To see how McNair Scholars are doing, we turned to two McNair Scholars. Karise Carrillo, whose research project looks at attitudes towards organ donation, and Tyler Scherr, whose research works to target bacterial primase, while potentially adding to the science trying to combat multi-drug resistant bacteria.

UNL McNair: So far, what have you learned about conducting a full scale research project?

Karise: I have learned that research does not always go as planned. Setbacks can and will happen, but working with it can often yield interesting results. I am a high-stress person, so learning to roll with the punches is possibly the best thing one can do to stay positive about the data. Data is data and will still yield results, even if they were not the ones you were expecting. Sometimes they turn out more exciting than expected!

Tyler: One of the biggest things I have learned so far is that conducting a full scale research project takes a lot of thorough planning. I’m sure this is true of other disciplines as well, but with my research I probably spend about 1/2 the time analyzing prior results and planning the next experiment, and about 1/2 the time actually running the experiments.

UNL McNair: So far, how do you feel your research has been going? Are you enjoying the experience?

Tyler: I feel pretty good about my research so far, especially since I have finally been getting some positive results. Even though it feels like I have not accomplished that much yet, my mentor keeps telling me that I’m still on pace to complete the project before the end of the summer. I guess, as far as my research is concerned, I had to put a lot of effort in at the beginning in order to get the ball rolling. I’m hoping it’s almost all downhill from here, but I know there will be a few hurdles left to climb.

Karise: I am very excited about my research thus far. I still am awed by participant turnout, so I was safely able to stop data collection on July 1st. I am still in the process of learning how to analyze the data I have thus far. With the knowledge I have, I’ve been able to realize I have very exciting results! While much of the preliminary data has come back with statistical insignificance, some surprising results have popped up. I look forward to doing the final analyses once all the data is in. Related to MSRE, I am thoroughly enjoying the interdisciplinary atmosphere of the group. I am getting to learn about incredibly amazing and significant research from talented people I have come to respect and consider good friends. There’s never a dull moment during MSRE sessions because I am constantly learning from my peers, both in critical feedback and from reading their research findings.

UNL McNair: Has there been anything about MSRE that was unexpected?

Karise: I was not expecting to have to cut back on the purview of the project. I did not realize I may have been casting the net too wide, but this will give me the opportunity to continue examining the data at a later date!

Tyler: Coming into the summer research experience, the only chemistry labs I had run were in class, which means they were already set up to work 99% of the time without fail. This is not at all true of doing actual research. Even the best planned research contains some mystery; you may have a hypothesis concerning what the results should look like, but you don’t really know until you see them. Even though this fact is kind of obvious, I was still a little surprised when my first experiment “failed.” But as my graduate mentor said, as long as you got results you can learn from them, all results can teach you something.

Thanks Karise and Tyler. And to the rest of the McNair cohort–keep up the hard work! We’re in the downward stretch, and Berkeley is just around the corner!

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