Summer research


Wait, what? *cough*

Hello, people! I am Everest Law, an international student and physics major from Hong Kong. This is my second year in college, and so far it has been a good ride. A liberal arts college like Oxy is the perfect place to pursue undergraduate studies for someone – like me – who has too many interests. While completing my physics degree in preparation for graduate school, I am also taking the opportunity to explore areas of knowledge that I am curious about but don't know much about. For instance, in my first semester at Oxy I have taken a course called "Chinese Ghost and Love Stories". It was half serious discussion of how the Chinese understood women's gender roles and the supernatural, and half reading about the adventures that young dashing scholars had with various spirits of nature. Also, I have been learning Russian for a year in preparation for studying abroad next summer (2014). I never knew that learning a new language could be fun … but Oxy broadened my horizon. Cliché, but true.

But today the aspect of Oxy life that I want to talk about is summer research on campus. Each year from late May to early August, about 120-150 students (out of 2100 in the whole school) worked with professors from various disciplines and investigated topics ranging from marine biology (scuba diving involved!), synthesis of drugs (chemistry), history and even religious studies. This summer I myself will work with Professor Snowden-Ifft, an astrophysicist working as part of an US-UK collaboration looking for dark matter. As daunting as doing "real" research sounds, the process of applying actually begins very informally: just go talk to faculty members and see if their research intrigues you. There will be competition, but if you are the best person for the position then you will be chosen, even though you may be "just" a freshman. 

In fact, I have already worked with Professor Snowden-Ifft last summer as a rising sophomore. Since academic research is an ongoing process, if you have proven your abilities once, then you are most likely to be hired again next summer. For many departments, it is also possible to continue the research during the semester as an Independent Study course, and/or even as a part-time job. If appropriate, student researchers can also present their results at the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research (SCCUR), thus connecting with other like-minded intellectuals and reaching a wider audience.

Still, why would a sane person spend most of the summer holiday doing this? What do participants get out of research? For starters, spending the holiday working and being able to formulate a specific research question (topic) are indicators of your resolve and creativity, thus making summer research a beneficial addition to your résumé. The professor that you worked with will also be in position to write a strong recommendation letter for you, which comes in handy in applying for jobs or graduate school. Moreover, conducting research is an excellent way to determine whether you are truly passionate about a subject matter; working full-time with something will quickly tell you how much you like it. Last but not least, for your effort you receive a stipend that includes room and board.

So why the hell not at least consider it?