First Day of Work – Life of a student researcher, part one

Today was my first day of work as a student researcher at the Claremont Colleges Keck Science Center. The lab I work in is made up several workstations and computers, and really feels more like an office than a laboratory. Four other students and I will be spending most of our time here for the next eight weeks, 9am – 5pm, Monday through Friday. This is my first full-time job and my first time doing biology research. Our data is collected from plants on the Channel Islands off of Santa Barbara, and our job is to analyze and model the data to make sense of plant species and populations on the islands.

The start of our research project means lots of reading! We have to acquaint ourselves with the work of previous students and even other researchers far away who study the same population models. Scientific research seems to start with lots of paper research, but that’s how we build off of those who came before us.

Also, every research student is required to understand the ethics of scientific research. I did a short online module about the ethics of research, citations, intellectual property, and workplace standards. The module presented tricky ethical dilemmas such as “Whose name should be the primary name on a published paper?” or “What should be done if there are conflicts of interest, favoritism, or discrimination in the laboratory?” or “What are the responsibilities of a researcher when they discover that their work could have dangerous consequences?” These are tricky questions with tricky answers, and even though I anticipate that my lab will be a safe place to work, I’m glad that all of us students start our work with these important questions in mind.

I’m looking forward to using new computer programs to sort through all the Channel Islands data! I’m also looking forward to the week-long excursion to the Chanel Islands that comes with this research job. It’s important to me to see how the data is collected, not simply analyzing someone else’s data in the lab. It will be lots of hot sun and steep hiking, but all the hard work will be worthwhile if I get to work side by side with my experienced biologist advisors.

Thanks for reading about my first day of work! I intend to document some of my daily activities so that you can get the behind-the-scenes details about how research is really conducted. I think sometimes people forget that science doesn’t come as a built-in feature of life. People just like me and you are responsible for making discoveries and finding meaning in the data, and that’s what makes research such an interesting process.