• Ethan Liebross

Research Is Where All The Action Is

These past few months, I have interviewed at six research labs. I didn't do this so I could inflate my ego. Instead, I interviewed so I could learn more about what's secretly going on in the university's shadows.

Professors (like this guy) have a life outside of the classroom, believe it or not. For a lot of them, their number one priority is research. I think it's important to understand this.

When you strip down Penn State to its core—after all the parties, the drinking, the football fanatics—there are a group of faculty and ambitious students working to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

  • Climate change

  • Addiction

  • Cancer

As undergraduates, we are blessed with the opportunity to get involved. All you have to do is ask.

Most of my interviews went well, thankfully. I was nervous about a lot of them, but I think that's okay. Nerves mean you care.

When I entered the doorway, I wasn't thinking, "Okay, Ethan, do everything you can to get this job." Instead, I was unabashedly myself. I believe that the goal of an interview is not just to get the job but also to learn more and see if it's the right match for both parties. Interviews are a two-way street.

I also think it's a good idea to visit labs that you may or may not be interested in. Initially, I got hooked on the idea of working for a neuroscience lab and nothing else. Neuroscience is an open frontier with discoveries happening every single day. The brain is like a machine. There are so many parts and functions that influence human health in breathtaking ways, and for the most part, we don't know what controls what.

But why hold myself back? There is so much more out there I could fall in love with. So, I got up off my high horse, and I visited a gene regulation lab, a childhood obesity lab, and a gerontology lab. These were all unbelievable experiences.

Luckily a couple of labs had open positions. The problem now is which one to pursue. There's a fork in the road, and I don't know which path to take.

Generally, labs are a two-semester commitment (a full year!), and that is a big commitment, especially for something you don't know if you genuinely like.

The worry for me is making the wrong decision: picking a lab when I really should have chosen a different one. I've never been good at card games.

I'm starting to learn that it's not necessarily the research topic that should be the end-all-be-all. It's several different factors.

  • Is the lab environment friendly and supportive?

  • Will it be a challenge?

  • Are there lots of independent work?

  • Do you have a good mentor?

(The answers should hopefully all be Yes)

The thing about research, from my understanding, is that you get in what you put out (generally speaking). The more grit, determination, or whatever else you have means the more opportunities to learn, explore, and make a real difference in the world of academia.

Originally published: February 8th, 2019

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