Entering first year at a large university, I had heard many legends from friends about how hard it was to get into a lab to do research. I had been doing my own research for science fair since I was in grade 3, so this worried me. Sitting in a lab studying rocks and fossils is how I love to spend my free time, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t have that opportunity.
In my first week, I found a list of all of the professors in the geology department with their specialties and email addresses. I emailed everyone whose research seemed even remotely related to what I was interested in. I expected to have maybe one or two respond back, so I was surprised when they all did!
The first professor I met with had a research subject that ended up being quite different from what I was interested in. Instead of just sending me out the door, he listened to what I was interested in and vowed to help me find someone with whom I could work. He gave me suggestions of which professor to meet with next, and that professor ended up being a perfect fit! I brought a copy of my most recent research to that meeting, and so did he! He connected me to a PhD Candidate who was working on the geochemistry of bones from a Neanderthal site. It turned out our research was very similar, just on different aged bones! We corresponded about possible research ideas, and several weeks later, I got started. I had the incredible opportunity to work with ancient (30,000 to 140,000 years old) megafauna bones from Belgium.
Every week, I would finish my class and rush over to the lab. I couldn’t believe I was working on this material! Yes, they were much more recent than the bones I was used to working on (dinosaur), but because of that I could do many more types of analyses of them. It was constantly fascinating to me that I was holding fragments of animals and maybe even Neanderthals from such a unique part of our history. Each small fragment of data I collected contributes to our story.
It was also inspiring to me how welcoming the department was to me. In the end, I knew many of the researchers on the floor, and had been showed what they are working on. Before I had even finished the Neanderthal project, everyone was already providing suggestions of what I could research next, and how the department could support me.
I now always tell people that if you are interested in research, just send a couple emails to professors and you never know what kind of opportunities might arise!