I was originally very intimidated by the prospect of doing research at Cornell. It is crazy to think that you could go from taking a introductory-level course from a professor one year to working alongside them in the lab the next, but I think one of the first things that students going into research have to jettison is the idea that they are a “student” and not a practicing scientist in their own right. A sage piece of advice I heard from a professor when I was applying to the chemistry major was that in chemistry you really are able to get right down to work in a lab once you have had basic undergraduate quantum mechanics and organic chemistry. Still, one of the biggest challenges I have faced in research has been building my confidence as a scientist.
As I got into doing research at Cornell, I realized that I was never really going to get anywhere if I was only doing what somebody else told me to do. I think too often (and this was true in my own case) undergraduates are content to live in a kind of stasis with their research work and they do not try to really see their research projects through. What I had to force myself to realize was that nobody was going to shepherd me through my own research project, so to push things forward I had to think deeply about my own research problem and to have my own original ideas about it. While being in the lab and doing benchwork can be really fun, I have found that my most rewarding experiences in science have just come from struggling to understand what my results mean and piecing together the underlying narrative.
This kind of work is still incredibly hard! As I have taken a leading role in my own research project, I have sunk a lot of time into stressing about whether this mutation will have the exact effect I predicted or arguing over the exact wording of things as we write our paper; yet, it is both incredibly fun and exciting to be able to do this kind of work everyday.
Eshan Mehrotra, ’21