I work in Dr. Cahoon’s lab with optical brighteners, which are synthetic compounds found in laundry detergents. Due to their fluorescent properties, optical brighteners can be a cheap and easy way to track human waste in natural waters. However, there is natural organic matter that also fluoresces and can interfere with the detection of optical brighteners. I am working on a method of separating the optical brighteners from the natural organic matter in order to obtain more accurate results.
Freshman year I was given Dr. Cahoon’s name as someone whose research matched my interests in water quality. I sent him an email describing my interests, why I wanted to work in his lab, and asking if he would be willing to meet with me. He agreed to meet with me and we talked about the possibility of a DIS project. The fall semester of my sophomore year I started my DIS project and will be doing my Honors Project with him next year. I hoped to gain hands-on experience and take my education to the next level.
Working in a lab has allowed me to develop new skills and learn how different tools work. Participating in research has also given me an opportunity to make connections with professors who can advise me, mentor me, and help me discover my interests. I quickly learned that research takes a lot of hard work and dedication. There are frustrating days where things do not work or you do not get the results you were hoping for. However, the days where everything works or you make new discoveries can be very rewarding and fun. The trick is working on something you care about because it makes the whole process more interesting!
Having research experience will be invaluable while applying for graduate school. My background working in labs will show that I know how to use lab equipment, collect data, and produce a scientific report. A graduate degree in the sciences will require a research project, so having the skills necessary to work efficiently in a lab will be an attractive quality. Being able to complete a research project also shows my passion, dedication, and love for science.