Thursday, November 6, 2014

“Diamond in the Rough”

After taking two quizzes, 24 students clambered tiredly into a classroom on a Saturday evening. We had been watching a movie all together, lazily spread across several couches and blankets in the Wilson House common area as the rain poured outside, when someone recalled that there was a presentation at 5. Silently groaning, I pulled myself up from the couch, shook myself out of the half-awake/half-asleep state I was in, and moseyed on downstairs to the classroom. Every part of me had wanted to remain curled under the warmth of my blanket until the subject of the impending presentation dawned upon me: It was finally time to begin the (what I now know to be) lengthy process of selecting an individual research project topic.
            To preface, one of the main selling points for the Global Health/Tropical Medicine program was the unique opportunity to conduct, in its entirety, a research project of my personal interest. I've had experience working in a molecular biology and genetics lab at my university, but despite the relatively large amount of autonomy I have for this lab's project, I have never been fully responsible for the creation, preparation, and execution of a research project, much less one that is tailored to encompass my particular interests! Thus, you can understand my excessive enthusiasm when it finally came time to buckle down and get to it.
            My prior research interests compounded with the faculty-led project on microbes cemented my desire to do conduct a research project in the field of microbiology. Furthermore, one of my friends had expressed a similar desire for her project, so we quickly decided that we would work together on a single project. With the "with whom" and the "what field" questions answered, we just needed a specific research topic. And we hoped that this presentation would be our answer.
Project idea after project idea flashed on the PowerPoint presentation, but none seemed to really catch my interest. I began to feel anxious; it also didn't help that more and more of my fellow classmates seemed to have their interests piqued by the suggested projects. What were we going to do for our project? Almost on cue, the words "Water Quality in Coto Brus Wells" flashed on the projector screen and the words "fecal contamination," "microbe analysis," and "laboratory experiment" was music to our ears. We took one look at the project, exchanged a glance and a slight nod, and it was pretty clear that this was the project we wanted to tackle.
Although we were happily relieved to have found a fitting and fascinating research project, we quickly discovered that "buckling down" and "getting to it" is much easier said than done. In our idealistic eagerness to take the reins, we forgot to consider the inevitable time constraints, logistical complications, and the general enormity of the task itself. However, after many lengthy conversations and idea exchanges with Alex, Claudine, and Jessica, we began to chip away at the rough, rocky edges to discover a project that is not only manageable, but also potentially impactful. Admittedly, I was naively frustrated in the initial stages of project production because it seemed as if everything had an obstacle of sorts, but in retrospect, I realized that I was trying to tackle a boulder with neither the right tools nor the right attitude. Opening my mind to suggestions and learning to work around the dead ends allowed me to discover the diamond in the rough, and at this moment, I can contently and proudly say that my proposed project is all that I hoped for.
Granted, there will be more changes in the future, but if just dipping my toes in the initial stages of research process has already taught me so much, I can only imagine the plethora of skills and ideas that I will learn. I might be a researcher in the rough right now, but hopefully this experience will move me one step closer toward becoming a shining researcher in the future.

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