Archive for the ‘Research & Internships’ category

Alumni Spotlight: Adrienne Ricker

February 21, 2018
Adrienne Ricker (McNair Scholars 2013-2016) earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and biological sciences in May 2016. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Earth & Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was awarded the prestigious Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship. Adrienne describes how the McNair Scholars Program helped her develop a positive working relationship with her research mentor and provided her with the support and tools necessary to navigate the graduate application process.

The McNair Scholars Program presented the opportunity to engage in research at an early point in my undergraduate career. Through McNair, I developed a one-on-one relationship with a faculty advisor in order to design and complete a research project. He provided mentoring and instruction on how to develop a research project and communicate with others effectively. That experience helped greatly in my first year as a graduate student, where active engagement in research is expected of students in my program.

As a low-income first-generation student, McNair helped me navigate the graduate application process–something I would have been lost in otherwise. I am now in the second year of my PhD and more certain than ever that the McNair program prepared me for this experience! Additionally, my McNair faculty mentor was imperative in my graduate school search and application process. He helped me navigate the application process and prepared me for the demands of life as a graduate student.

My background experiences and participation in the McNair Scholars Program helped me receive the prestigious Eugene Cota-Robels Fellowship, which has given me the freedom to develop a thesis project I am truly passionate about. Otherwise, I would have probably taken on a project previously funded by my advisor’s existing grants. This freedom has been rewarding and a great opportunity to learn the full process of a developing a research project through to the end product.

Being involved in exciting research is one of the best parts of graduate school, but you shouldn’t let your research consume you. My advice to McNair Scholars would be to look for something outside of your research to be involved in—whether that is a campus organization or a volunteer experience—find something you enjoy that is relevant to your goals and gives you a break from the rigors of graduate school. Moreover, I’d also recommend you establish expectations for work/life balance with your advisor early on. If expectations are clear right away at the beginning, then it will help relieve concerns about whether you are filling those expectations or not!





McNair Alumni Spotlight: Jason Thomas

February 20, 2018

From the Nebraska Plains to French Fields: Jason Thomas’ Doctoral Journey

Jason Thomas (McNair Scholar 2012–2014) has followed his passion for botany all the way from the UNL McNair Scholars classroom to the Plant Reproduction and Development Laboratory at the Ècole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France. This path is leading Jason to his ultimate goal, earning a Ph.D. in Plant Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Below, Jason describes how the McNair Scholars Program prepared him to pursue graduate study and apply for a competitive Fulbright Fellowship.

First of all, I’d like to say that I might not have been able to experience graduate school, let alone everything with it (the US Fulbright Program in France, publishing papers, meaningful research projects) without the UNL McNair Scholars Program. What I’ve learned from the McNair Scholars Program was useful well after I entered my graduate program. It was a key resource in getting me here to France. Applying for a Fulbright fellowship is much like applying to graduate programs or any fellowships that McNair Scholars are prepared for. But thankfully, there is no GRE.

In my PhD, I study field pennycress, a biofuel crop that produces oilseeds much like canola that can soon be used in everything from cooking oil to jet fuel. Specifically, I’m trying to make its flowers produce more nectar to feed pollinators such as honey bees, which should also increase pennycress seed yield. I chose to bring this research to France because working with their top plant scientists would be a valuable international experience that I can use throughout my career. Furthermore, environmental problems like climate change and biodiversity loss are often global and can in part be combated with plant science.

While here I am finding out the joy of collaborations, especially the feeling of knowing that I’ve linked two groups together to discover something new that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. As a Fulbright Scholar I am supposed to exchange knowledge from my home graduate program to my host institution. I’ve learned of new ideas and ways of doing science that I’d like to bring back to my lab in Minnesota. Hopefully, I will bring back scientific results that are worth publishing. And of course, I’ll also bring back the memories of immersing myself in a new culture and learning their customs, trying French cuisine, and learning a new language.

I have two main pieces of advice for current and future McNair Scholars. Firstly, work hard and intelligently. One of the things I remember being told in one of our first McNair meetings is that you get back whatever you put into the McNair Scholars Program. The same goes for graduate school and all of life really. Secondly, do things that you didn’t think were possible and abandon your comfort zone. Take those risks such as applying for competitive fellowships or leaving the country. By doing so, McNair Scholars can enhance their professional development above and beyond what they imagined.

*I acknowledge that the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.


McNair Gave Haikalis the Confidence and Skills to Thrive

June 28, 2017

Michelle Haikalis (McNair Scholar 2009-2012) earned her master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014 and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at UNL in the same field. Below, Michelle describes how the McNair Scholars Program provided her with the confidence to pursue graduate-level study and the skills to thrive in her research and coursework.

The Ronald E. McNair Program was absolutely vital to my success in pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Although my mother was unable to finish her undergraduate degree, she taught me about the importance of education in order to develop critical thinking skills and open up doors for career possibilities. Thanks to her, I greatly valued education upon entering college, but knew little about post-undergraduate education or how to prepare for it. I would have been lost navigating the process of pursuing a graduate degree alone. Further, because I did not have models in my personal life of people who had attained Ph.D.’s, it was hard for me to know if I had what it took, or could develop the skills needed, to excel at the doctoral level.

The McNair Scholars Program identified my uncultivated potential and filled in the gaps from my background. Specifically, McNair provided me with opportunities to build critical skills necessary for success at the doctoral level and bolstered my confidence so that I would pursue the challenge of graduate school. The intensive research experiences central to the McNair Program helped me to build important research skills and knowledge that have served as an essential foundation—a foundation that I will continue to build upon throughout my career as a clinical scientist.



When Life Hands You Lemons… (and you have a Paper Due)

June 21, 2017

By Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant and UNL McNair Alum

We all know that college (and graduate school) is hard enough on a good day, but what happens when life gets hard too? When you consider the mental and physical health issues many college students face themselves, as well as family issues that happen back home, it can get pretty daunting to be a college student. For example, more than 30% of students in college are dealing with the death of a parent or close friend within the past two years (Balk et al., 2010). Almost 20% of those students are at risk of withdrawing from college (Plaskac et al., 2011).

I’m here to tell you, however, that there is support available to help you get through these situations. I bet you’re asking yourself, “How would she know?”, and it’s because I’ve been there myself. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes my second semester of grad school, and my Dad passed away from ALS a year later during my second year of grad school. That made for a rough year or so, but I succeeded in earning my Master’s degree and am moving on to my PhD. (more…)

Getting the most out of MSRE: Grad School Boot Camp

June 8, 2017

by Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant and UNL McNair Alum

Graduate school is an eye-opening experience for all new graduate students (myself included). Grading policies are stricter, workloads are often intimidating, and then there is the ever-present imposter syndrome—the feeling that maybe you don’t belong in graduate school. But, guess what? MSRE is a great time to get the grad school experience without leaving the comforts of UNL.

Three challenges that are often reported by first year graduate students are (a) time management, (b) amount of reading due/understanding the reading, and (c) graduate level writing (Schramm-Possinger & Powers, 2015). In addition, first year graduate students have to learn how to motivate themselves without the undergraduate structure they are used to and with other duties like teaching or research. Sound familiar? It is pretty close to the day-to-day experience you are having right now, right? This is why my MSRE mentor called me and her other McNair scholar ‘grad-students-in-training.’

So how do you make the most of the MSRE experience so you won’t be as shocked when you jump in the grad school pool? I’m going to share five tips that might just help you out. (more…)

Writing a Successful Research Proposal

February 22, 2011

As Scholars, research proposals are something you will write numerous times throughout your academic career in order to describe and propose a research project you’d like to undertake. Often, your proposal will be the official document that you submit in order to be considered for funding, just like the proposal all McNair Scholars who participate in UNL’s UCARE program have experience writing.

Junior Scholars are now completing their research proposals for the 2011 McNair Scholars Research Experience, and many of our graduating Senior Scholars are also likely thinking ahead to the projects they’d like to undertake while in graduate school. A strong, well-written research proposal is the first step to a quality research project, so we put together a few tips and reminders to keep in mind as you work on current and future research proposals.

What exactly is a research proposal? One definition of a research proposal is: a detailed management plan for a research project. While your plan should be detailed, it also needs to be concise and well thought out. A well-researched and focused proposal will save you valuable time and effort in revisions later.

You’ll begin your research proposal like any other piece of academic work, with an introduction. Your introduction should provide a brief overview of the research problem, and create interest in the topic and question being researched. (this section should illustrate the “so what?” where you describe why your research is relevant and noteworthy to others)

Following the introduction, you’ll develop a problem statement. Keep in mind that the research you propose to do must be unique and relevant. In the problem statement, you’ll describe the importance of the research you plan to conduct, and also provide readers with a framework to understand how your research will fit into the broader picture of scholarship on your topic.

Your research proposal will also contain a literature review. The literature review will be your opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve undertaken a thorough review of the current research that exists on your given topic, and demonstrates any “holes” that exist in current research.

A research proposal must also include a methods section, detailing how you will collect and analyze the data you’ll be using.

When completed, you should be able to confidently say that your research proposal demonstrates:

  • Why the proposed research is important
  • Who the research is important to
  • How the conducted research will contribute to already existing scholarship and practice

Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you have questions along the way. Faculty members are there to help, and can talk to you about how research proposals are written in your discipline. You can also ask for help or assistance from a graduate student in your department. They have experience writing research proposals, and should be happy to share their insight on how to successfully complete the process. Finally, McNair staff are here to help as well—just ask!

Some material taken from Dr. Richard Lombardo’s lecture “Writing a Research Proposal.”

MSRE Week Seven: Learning the Ropes of the Research Process

July 9, 2010

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!