A large number of students at JMU have realized the valuable skills and unique opportunities presented by participating in undergraduate research. As a senior chemistry major seeking to pursue an advanced degree, I can attest to the skills that I have built in my two-and-a-half years of undergraduate research. These skills include basic and advanced laboratory techniques, critical analysis of scientific literature and results, and presentation of research in written and oral formats. Through my research, I have also been presented with several career-building experiences, such as presenting work at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society. One of the most exciting and influential opportunities I had was the chance to conduct research at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
During the summer of 2013, I participated in a ten-week summer research program called the Amgen Scholars Program. This program, sponsored by the biotechnology company Amgen, gives undergraduate students the opportunity to pursue research in the biological or physical sciences at one of ten leading ‘educational research institutions’ in the nation. The program is an excellent way for students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. to experience more advanced, graduate-level research. I learned of the Amgen Scholars Program through a fellow Duke who had participated the previous year, prompting me to further explore the opportunity. Several of the universities on the list had faculty members that were pursuing research that I found interesting. Matching my research interests to those of participating university faculty members was the primary factor that I utilized when selecting where to apply. The applications typically included several questions about career objectives, a personal statement, a college transcript, and letter(s) of recommendation. There are no fees to apply; the applications are usually due in late January or early February. I heard that I was accepted by the UCSD Amgen program in March and subsequently contacted a faculty member to set up a project to begin in late June.
Flying 3,000 miles to San Diego was a nerve-racking experience for this lifelong east-coaster. However, once I settled into the lab at UCSD and familiarized myself with the beautiful seaside town of La Jolla, I began to truly appreciate this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My experience in the lab was awesome! I enjoyed my research project immensely and was able to work closely with my faculty advisor and several seasoned graduate students. I quickly realized the need to utilize all of the skills that I had developed at JMU to perform research that was largely unfamiliar to me. I was able to catch a glimpse of life as a graduate student, and the experience wholly confirmed my desire to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry. Additionally, I established a valuable new network of contacts with professors, graduate students, and other undergraduates in the Amgen Scholars Program. I would strongly advise all students interested in research-driven careers to pursue summer work away from JMU at least once as an undergraduate. In addition to the Amgen Scholars Program, there are many other research opportunities and internships available to students. Conducting summer research outside of JMU drove me to unfamiliar territory: a new research project and a new town. Forging new ground paid off in the end as I was able to bring a fresh perspective, new skills, and a renewed excitement for my own research project here at JMU.