In this second installment, guest blogger Dr. Kate Plass (Franklin & Marshall College) reflect on the insights gained from a summer of mentoring students in the lab. She and the students both learned the value of sharing ideas and results within a larger scientific community.
Your mom was right, you should share.
The summer research period is winding down here at Franklin & Marshall College. My students will be gone in few days–off to spend time with family and earn the money that will keep them going during the next academic year. Reflecting on this summer research period, it has underscored how important and invigorating it is to share the work we do, not only in the necessary publications and meetings, but regularly and informally.
Reflecting on this summer research period, it has underscored how important and invigorating it is to share the work we do, not only in the necessary publications and meetings, but regularly and informally.
Many Franklin & Marshall students and faculty attended and presented at the MARM meeting in nearby Hershey, PA, and we were so impressed. This cozy conference was an excellent introduction to professional meetings, though it may have left students with the misconception that it rains free chocolate at ACS meetings. Talks that we attended were high quality. There was a welcoming sense of community at the poster sessions that put students fears to rest while still ensuring that they were pushed intellectually.
My group had an amazing experience having group meeting with Prof. Ray Schaak and graduate students doing related work at Pennsylvania State University! My students presented their summer research findings, several graduate students presented their recent work, and we had an informal discussion about graduate school and science careers over lunch. F&M students were thrilled by the critical and cooperative discussions that their work prompted. One F&M student said that “…talking with different people apparently opened up new doors in our research. I was impressed by their level of critical thinking, and the fact that they are unfamiliar with surface chemistry but still be able to give good advice.” Another student noted “getting feedback from other scientists/students who are outside the project is extremely valuable because they can see things in our results that we have become numb to.” Upon hearing the PSU graduate students talk about their research, the F&M undergraduates were struck by how everybody’s work meshed together. We were using the same techniques and thinking about similar problems, even using some of the same procedures. They also felt that the graduate students truly valued their opinions.
Another student noted “getting feedback from other scientists/students who are outside the project is extremely valuable because they can see things in our results that we have become numb to.”
Informal discussions about graduate school and careers gave practical advice about navigating the graduate school application and selection process while assuring them that it is ok not to know exactly what you want to do for a career at this point. Students reported “I was relieved and terrified to hear that many of the grad students were unsure of what they wanted to do with their lives after getting their degrees” but that “it is crucial that the projects you work on [in graduate school] are projects that you care for and are passionate about.” Most of the students were considering graduate school before our visit, but with the trepidation that accompanies not having a good picture of what it would be like. Now, the are enthusiastic about graduate school, while also having received practical advice on how to ensure it is a positive experience.
Sharing the frustrations of research can make them easier to overcome, or at least less painful to live with.
The shared group meeting with Ray Schaak’s group and my new collaboration with my colleague Jennifer Morford, have reminded me of how great it is to have other people to talk about science with in detail. Sharing the frustrations of research can make them easier to overcome, or at least less painful to live with.
It also renews my enthusiasm to find that others are interested and engaged by what we are doing. Without discussion, I can take for granted the impressive things we get to do. I even took our ability to use the facilities at Penn State’s Materials Characterization Laboratory for granted. I had started to think about data-collection trips up to Penn State to use their TEMs as long days spend staring at a computer screen and I was not going to bring students with me. When students asked to come, I couldn’t believe I had forgotten that this would be an exciting new experience! Several students came with me to collect data and had a great time.
Katherine Plass is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Franklin & Marshall College. Kate leads a team of undergraduate student scientists to explore the surface and solid-state behavior of nanoparticles of interest for optoelectronic applications.