Research Is More Than Lab Work

As mentioned in my last blog entry, I am currently working in Germany as a research intern at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. “Research” is a term that you hear a lot everywhere (especially in school), but what exactly does it entail? When I was applying for this research position last winter, I thought research was all about working in the lab (well, I have never done any research before, so I guess it’s understandable). Now that I have spent some time working in a research group, I realized that “research” is a lot more than just laboratory work, and I would like to share what my research is about!

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My research is about carbon fiber-reinforced composites, and it was a subject completely new to me. Therefore, in the beginning of my internship, I spent about a week reading different literature (there were more than fifteen pieces of reading material!) all day. These reading materials helped me a lot in getting a better understanding of the subject. There were times when I had to go over the same material several times before I fully understood the concepts behind, and there were also times I got more confused every time I reread the materials. Questions like, “How did he/she come to this conclusion?” or, “How accurate is the data? Is there any way to minimize the error?” would pop up in my mind, and the goal of research would be to find an answer or solution to these questions.

After conducting literature research, I finally started working in the lab. My lab work mainly involves producing various types of composites using carbon fibers and chemicals, and taking microscopic pictures of the samples. You might think I spend most of my working hours in the lab, but that’s not true at all. Laboratory work takes time, and I usually work on other stuff in the office while waiting for different processes to be completed. I think I spend at most a third of the time in lab, and during the rest of the time I’m working in the office, writing codes for analyzing data and doing simulations on the computer.

Having spent more than ten weeks working in a research group, I’d say the one thing that struck me most about researchers is how self-motivated they all are. They do not have very strict schedules and deadlines to adhere to, nor do they receive much instruction from their supervisors. It amazes me how their interests in one subject drive them to working tirelessly, and how their passion keeps them from giving up, even when experiments fail or when analysis results are not satisfactory.

That’s all I have to share about my research experience this summer, and I hope this gives you a better idea about what “research” is!

About the author

Florence Yip

I'm a member of the Class of 2017 and plan on majoring in mechanical engineering. I'm from Hong Kong, China, and am currently involved in the Mini Baja club, Habitat for Humanity, and the Chinese Christian Fellowship.

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