If you're from Oxford of Emory, this is for you!
I love Oxford and the professors down there are family to me. Ms. Harmon is my "science mom"! Therefore I'd love to help all you students so much! I love you all and feel that Oxford students really are a head above the rest - they shine - I've heard stories all over the place to prove it. Go shine at Emory and make it great! I am specifically looking to help Oxford students - however! - the bullet points can also apply to any rising junior and those interested in research. Let me know if you have any questions!
Jessica’s Tips for Junior / Senior Year and How not to Burn Out!
Navigate the Coursework Minefield: Navigating a science degree (Chemistry, Biochemistry, Medicine etc) is like navigating a minefield. You have to plan effectively what you’re going to do and how to successfully reach the end. Do it incorrectly, and even the smartest of students will blow sky high, suffering burn out and horrible grades, resulting in discouragement or dropping out of a degree altogether from sheer frustration. It’s happened more than once – Ms. Harmon has told me – and it’s entirely unnecessary! Don’t let it be you! To avoid this fate, follow these general guidelines when choosing your course load:
- Avoid taking P-chem with its requisite math courses. Always take the math first.
- Avoid taking more than two hard core science courses at a time (any for-majors chemistry, biochemistry or math course). If you must take three, do not take a fourth class (of any kind). If you must take a fourth class, take a *very* easy elective that will not give you any trouble (art / music appreciation, literature etc).
- If you are taking P-chem (or another course you feel will be challenging – similar to Orgo or Bio 101 level) – try to pick a second science course that is not going to be as taxing.
- Do NOT take more than three classes if you are also doing research. No exceptions.
- Do not become heavily involved in a lot of extracurriculars that will pull you in too many places and expect to spend most all your free time studying, if you do not already.
Follow these general guidelines at all cost! Look at your requirements. You probably will not have to take EVERY science course that you need all at once. Spread them out. You’ll thank yourself later.
Advising: what to expect
- Class sizes will be larger.
- There is less personal attention given to students, including advising. Professors are busier because they have more students and they ALSO run research labs and write grants constantly. If you haven’t already been doing it, make up your own personal plans for your class loads / schedules. You will be expected to do this.
- Before you commit to a course load, get advice about whether it’s doable – from your Emory advisor, former Oxford professors, grad students like me, or someone in the Emory offices.
- Depending on who you have, realize that your advisor may or may not be helpful.
*To help fill the gap of busy professors / advisers that Ms. Harmon has often spoken about, I am offering myself as a grad student co-adviser for Oxford students to answer questions about classes, research and Emory to the best of my ability or to point you to someone who knows. Email: jpetree331[at]gmail.com
Jessica’s Do’s and Don’ts for Getting Research Experience
DO’s and DON’Ts for getting a position: how to impress a professor
- DO be proactive! That’s what Oxford is all about – let it shine! (More below)
- DO NOT look for a research position just to put it on your resume. Be passionate OR at least take it seriously.
- DO NOT expect to get your name on a paper from your work. This is the exception, not the rule.
- DO look at professor’s website about their work to find out what they are doing and what you might be interested in.
- DO try to read or at least scan through a paper that they have published that looks interesting.
- DO email them to ask if they have any openings and / or if you can setup a meeting and hear more about their research. Talk to them, ask questions; ask what are some potential projects that you could work on? Take notes.
- DO – if you don’t hear back from them – haunt their office and visit them in person. This will help them to see that you’re persistent and you really care.
- DO – emphasize that you’re interested in research (provided that you are) and let your passion shine. Don’t be nervous. Professors are people too and they actively WANT passionate students. That could be you.
- DO – if you have trouble or are worried – come let me know and I will help out / introduce you to the professor myself. I love introducing people!
DO’s and DON’Ts once you have a position: how to gain / maintain your professor / mentor’s respect
- DO expect to spend a minimum of 15-20 hrs a week doing research. It’s like a part time (or full time) job. Treat it like one.
- DO schedule your own work hours and inform your mentor what they are.
- DO stick to those hours.
- DO show up every day for research, at least for part of the day.
- DO NOT … DO NOT! Cease to show up for research when the semester gets busy. Why are you here? Why are you wasting the grad student’s time? You’re taking up the spot of another student who does care. This happens all the time at Emory among *Emory* students (especially med school students) and it’s talked about with disgust in the labs, how many undergrads don’t really care and don’t take their work seriously. Professors are looking for students who care. Oxford students are *better* than that. Let’s show it. I don’t want to hear this about any of you.
- DO come to lab meetings, unless you have class or tests.
- DO NOT expect yourself to understand everything during lab meetings. You’ll probably understand 10% at best. That’s ok. Do your best and you’ll slowly pick up more things.
- DO let your grad student mentor know if you cannot be there or must study for a test. This is perfectly ok and expected. Just let your mentor know what’s going on so he’s not waiting for you.
- DO NOT come late for mentor meetings or come late to lab. You’re wasting the grad student’s time, which is very valuable.
- DO read a few papers related to your area.
- DO NOT worry if you can’t understand the papers, especially at first. Circle and look up all the words you don’t know. Write yourself lots of notes in the margins. Then ask your grad student mentor for help understanding it or someone else in the field. Each field has its own jargon and it’s not easy to break into it, but you WILL get there.
- DO try to do your own experiments and not just watch your grad student mentor do them. If he/ she doesn’t offer this, ask to do or try your own. You’re here to DO research, not just to watch it. Take an active roll. Never be passive.
- DO try to understand the why behind the protocol – as we all learned in Ms. Harmon’s organic chemistry lab – why are you doing what you’re doing? This is vitally important to your critical thinking.
- DO wear your lab coat and safety glasses – yes those! – when in lab doing experiments – even in bio division. It’s a “thing” even among grad students not to wear either of these and it’s *embarrassing* to the department. The professors don’t approve, because they are in charge of people’s safety and are liable. Your professor will automatically respect you more when they see that you DO care about following the rules. Show up those grad students!
- DO keep meticulous notes of the procedures that your grad mentor shows you. You know you did your notes correctly if you can repeat what he did without asking him to show you a second time. This includes how to use instruments in lab. Carry a notebook and pen with you.
- DO learn to keep a good lab notebook with detailed notes. Remember how Ms. Harmon taught us in organic lab? Use the tools she gave you. I shall write a note soon about how to write a good lab notebook (and why it's important), for those elsewhere who were not lucky enough to have Ms. Harmon. An experiment, in may ways, is only as good as its notes. If you don't write good notes, you may as well not have done anything, because there's no record of it and you won't remember it. Keys of a good lab notebook: Date and title for each day. Title should include purpose of the experiment. Divide the page into two halves. On the left half, write your procedure - exactly what you did. On the right half, write observations, notes and calculations. Tape in / write in results into your lab notebook, with short explanation / conclusion about what you think they mean and what you plan to do next (a few sentences - doesn't have to be an essay). More on that later. Look for ways to improve your notebook. As an undergrad researcher, you're practicing for grad school.
Why this advice and what will it do for you? One of the hardest things to learn is how to balance research / coursework. It’s not easy. In taking a research position, you have to be in it for the long-haul and not stop coming to lab. You should be doing at least 1-2 new experiments each week, or serious planning for a future experiment. Otherwise, you are wasting yours and the grad student’s time.
Importance of passion: Professors are looking for students who care. Med students beware! Med students have a reputation in the Emory labs for being research slackers – they show up infrequently or not at all during the semester, they show up late for work, they don’t come to lab meetings, they are passive and don’t put in any effort, they expect to get their name on a paper for doing almost no work and / or just want research experience for their resume. As a med student, you will be going up against this stereotype. However, all undergrads are under this scrutiny to a degree. When a professor meets you, he wants to know why he should take you on – do you care?
The tips above are to ensure you get the most from the experience, that you are well-respected by your mentor, your professor and the other research students, and you will be able to get good recommendations from them in future. You can show the professor that you care by all of the above – being on time, taking things seriously, asking questions, wearing safety equipment etc.
PHEW! I know that probably sounds like a tall order, but just do your best! Your mentor / professor isn’t going to kill you for a few mistakes. They WANT good students. If you act the role and are responsible, they can’t help but like you and be impressed. Always strive for excellence. If you do this, not only will you have a great research experience and a stellar recommendation letter, but you will STAND OUT as a fantastic student, gain respect and be well on your way to a great research / science career.
I am here to help! Contact Info / Website
Name: Jessica Petree
Lab PI: Khalid Salaita
Lab website: http://chemistry.emory.edu/faculty/salaita/Home.html
Contact: jpetree331[at]gmail.com or jpound[at]emory.edu
Office: Atwood Hall 520
Personal website and science blog: http://culurien.weebly.com/science.html
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Let me know if you have any questions! I am here to help all you guys reach your goals, and will be happy to talk, even if you just have worries / concerns, need someone to talk to, encouragement / support or a shoulder to cry on. You can’t get a science degree alone. Oxford provided lots of this kind of moral support, but it’s harder to find at Emory – so let me help! Send me an email and we can setup an appointment, ask questions by email, or drop in any time (I’m ok with that) – if I’m busy, we’ll work something out. Usually I can talk as I work, if nothing else.
Some topics (not exhaustive) I can discuss:
How is grad school different from undergrad? // What is a typical day for a grad student? // What is research like? // What is your favorite part of your job? // What does your lab do? // What is your project about? // How do you choose a lab for grad school? // How do you write a good grad school application letter? // Is this course load doable? // Why do you have a tribble on your desk – ha ha! ;)