USRI: My Journey as a Young Scientist

A photo of data being shown on a graph on a computer screenWritten by: Jessica Jeong, Science Student

Photo by: Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Entering the USRI program, I was excited for the chance to experience the research process from tip to tail. Unfortunately, due to current events, I wasn’t able to do any fieldwork or experiments in-lab, but I am grateful I still have the opportunity to pursue other activities such as: gaining a bird’s eye perspective of the field through literature review, cleaning and prepping data for analysis in R coding software, interpreting statistical results, and summating my findings through writings and figures. Being involved in research and getting a taste for these procedures has felt exceptionally rewarding and I’ve found that I greatly enjoy the excitement that comes with research’s discovery and progress.

In addition, I was looking forward to the workshops as a way of exploring new topics; so far, I think they cover a good breadth of relevant subjects and are well-delivered, but I sometimes feel it was difficult to grasp certain concepts without being able to try the software or activities alongside the tutorial. There are definitely some restraints due to everything being digital, but perhaps some of the meatier workshops like Intro to NVivo or GIS could have been broken up into multiple sessions with mini assignments in-between?

Some challenges I’ve felt during this internship is overcoming the learning curve, especially with so many new materials and tools (e.g. Web of Science or R) to explore and the limited time frame of the summer. To iron out these techniques, I plan to continue practicing with a mindset to focus on what’s relevant to my project instead of trying to understand every nook and cranny of the software.

Another difficulty that I encountered is that it can sometimes be hard to get prompt feedback or help when working remotely, meaning some issues can’t be tackled right away and may accumulate. I hope to overcome this by accounting for this lag in my schedule and trying to predict and bring up issues before they occur. My supervisor’s advice has been invaluable to this project and has shown me how fun this experience can be with the proper support and feedback; I hope that I can continue taking full advantage of her guidance.

The final week of USRI has been a whirlwind: preparing my poster, attending the conference, manning my booth, meeting peers to discuss their work, and presenting my lightning talk to a refereed panel— all of these are new experiences that I wouldn’t have without this program. The WUSRI has been an exceptional chance to, not only better understand the research process, but also to grow in both skill and confidence. For instance, through meetings with my supervisor, I learned how to take ownership of the project and take initiative by bringing up issues and questions with her while planning around unexpected obstacles. This, in turn, allowed me to actively reflect on how my progress matched the timeline and to be more intentional with how I proceeded with research activities.

The PD sessions also served as a fantastic way to learn about resources available to researchers and the norms of the industry. For example, in the reference management session, I learned that I could use Zotero not just for lit reviews, but also to manage workshops and conferences I attended. This helped me during my co-op internship interviews as I was more conscious about my professional development and could enumerate workshop skills to the employers. Other sessions touched directly on my research; for instance, research communication, posters, data visualization, and storytelling helped me in preparing my outputs for the conference. Lastly, some workshops weren’t immediately applicable to me (e.g., GIS, filing patents, Nvivo, publishing), but they allowed me to understand research norms and potential tools I can use in the future.

Beyond the skills I gained, the USRI also highlighted areas for improvement. I found that I usually struggled in open-ended tasks and needed to set a hard goal to make strong progress. As well, working from home, it was easy sometimes for work to bleed and overtake other areas of life and I found that I would often worry about a project or interview during my free time. I realized that, barring emergencies, I needed to set a border between work and life and honestly evaluate whether I really didn’t have enough time or nerves were just getting the better of me. I realized that trying to work past hours usually meant I got way less done and stayed up way later. And I realized that these other areas of my life like health, family, and spirituality were equally, if not more, important and that making time to work on them helps me be a more “whole” person. I hope that I can continue to bring forward this mindset as I continue my journey as a young scientist.

Read more USRI reflections!

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