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Pierre Abillama's picture

Climbing Academia's Research Ladder

"I'm just a freshman, how can I be at all helpful in research if I haven't learnt anything yet!" is something every freshman says at one point during their first year at the U.

Research is what sets the U apart from a lot of other schools in the country. By encouraging students to get involved in research at an undergraduate level, the U sets them up nicely for graduate school opportunities in their respective fields. But how can I, the puny freshman, get involved in the collosal research of the U's highly esteemed faculty? Time to bust some myths! What you probably don't know is that there is so much research being conducted at the U that primary investigators are looking to hire alot of research assistants regardless of their experience. In short, there's not enough of upper-division students at the U to satisfy their demand. And if you have a scholarship, you're even more in luck because that means that you will cost your mentors absolutely nothing to work for them!

Here's some concrete evidence to support my claims: Upon my admission at the U, I received the Undergraduate Research Scholarship (URS). This award is a one-time scholarship valid for two years after the program's start date. It allows students who have found a mentor to conduct research under his wing and in exchange, they will be paid $1400. A useful website to keep in mind when searching for mentors is https://experts.umn.edu/. This website is the U's way of facilitating the process of finding a mentor and avoid potentially awkward and dissapointing conversations with professors. That's where I found Dr. Ravdin, my research mentor. I interviewed for a position on his research team towards the end of the spring semester and have been conducting research with him and other research assistants ever since June 2017. Another thing you need to know about research through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) is that they have deadlines for when research proposals are due as opposed to URS students. Faculty mentors however are very flexible. Dr. Ravdin was kind enough to work with me on Skype, help me write my research proposal and walk me through all the training required to handle clinical data while I was in Lebanon visiting my family.

My point is that, I was a freshman when I wrote this:
"The purpose of my research is to provide analytical data, that when acted upon, will improve the effectiveness of Youth Aids Prevention program case managers in linking and retaining HIV-infected youth to the Human Immunodeficiency (HIV)/AIDS health care needed to achieve the positive viral suppressive outcomes for their HIV infection. This can be achieved under Dr. Ravdin's mentoring through retrospective analytics of case managers’ data over at least a 3 year interval."

I didn't have it all figured out back then, but it gets clearer as you dive deeper into the process of research. There will be times where you will feel frustrated, thinking your research is going nowhere. Just remember that employers and graduate schools think otherwise.