Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

The work life of an undergraduate researcher: chemistry edition

This article unravels the captivating journey of undergraduate researchers in the field of chemistry as they step into the vibrant world of laboratory exploration. By delving into the experiences of Jonathan Cox, Kevin Nguyen, and the guiding wisdom of Dr. David Son, we uncover the invaluable benefits and transformative impact that research has on the young minds in academia. Jonathan and Kevin worked all summer as undergraduate researchers a part of the Summer Research Intensive

So, step into the bustling realm of a university chemistry lab, where the symphony of beeping machines and the hum of scientific dialogue paint a vivid picture of discovery in progress. For Jonathan Cox, an undergraduate researcher with Dr. John Buynak, the allure of “more advanced academia” beckoned, leading him to a summer of immersion in synthetic organic chemistry research. Cox reflects on the exhilaration of interacting with researchers from around the globe at the American Society for Microbiology Conference, where ideas are exchanged, and boundaries are pushed.

Jonathan Cox, Rising Senior Researcher

Cox inherited a transformative research experience where he applied textbook theories to new hands-on experiments. He had initial apprehensions about maneuvering intricate instruments and executing precise techniques; however, the lab became a canvas where theory transformed into tangible reality using newfound skills. Cox’s exposure to pharmaceutical research, a field he hadn’t previously considered, ignited a spark of interest. Cox had “never considered the overlap between advanced synthetic organic chemistry and biology…until I was able to put my foot into the lab and research it first hand,” he said. 

Cox, and his summer research partner Kendall Stieben, won first place in the SRI Three-Minute Thesis Competition, where students in the SRI cohort had the opportunity to talk with faculty and staff partners about their research from the summer.

Kevin Nguyen, an undergraduate researcher with Dr. David Son, equally had a transformative experience in the SRI. He emphasized the collaborative nature of chemistry research, which shapes a learning environment that encourages teamwork. Nguyen’s participation in the Three-Minute Thesis and professional development workshops during the SRI highlight his commitment to making complex ideas in his lab accessible. Nguyen states, “research isn’t research unless the public can comprehend its usage.” His desire to learn to simplify his research jargon was large in part to making his work accessible to community members. 

Nguyen tied for third place in the Three-Minute Thesis Competition as well.

Kevin Nguyen, Rising Senior Researcher

Dr. Son believes that partnership and mentorship with his students, like Nguyen, allow for them to truly hone their skills. Dr. Son’s rule of thumb for aspiring researchers is clear: “express interests in research early and often… be persistent and consistent,” he stated. His advice echoes through the corridors of academic ambition, emphasizing the importance of tenacity and consistency in the pursuit of knowledge. Dr. Son ensures that his role as a mentor nurtures his students’ minds holistically and not solely through lab work. 

The impact of undergraduate research transcends the confines of the lab. Through the SRI, Cox’s exposure to global conferences with Dr. Buynak widened his perspectives on chemistry and biology. In addition, Nguyen’s emphasis on public comprehension challenges conventional perceptions of research. As we consider their insights, it becomes evident that research equips young scholars with practical skills, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate complex ideas to a wider audience. This foundation extends beyond academia, preparing them for diverse career paths and making them stand out in competitive landscapes.

The work life of an undergraduate researcher in chemistry emerges as a profound journey of transformation and enlightenment. As we highlight the intricate realm of research, their narratives remind us that beneath the beakers and data lies a realm of collaboration, communication, and unwavering dedication that the SRI experience exposes for these students. The legacy of these young minds extends far beyond the lab, shaping a future where scientific discovery finds its voice in the world.

Rohan Jagarlamudi is a senior at the Alcuin School and interned this summer with the Office of Engaged Learning.

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Summer Research Symposium: Panel on Resilience

The Summer Research Intensive wrapped up its final session of its Summer Research Symposium last week. 

The undergraduate researchers were able to hear from a faculty panel as they discussed the navigation of their careers, life advice, and ways to be resilient in challenging times. 

Dr. Lynne Stokes, Professor of Statistical Science, encouraged the students as they think towards their post-undergraduate career to not think “that [they] picked the wrong opportunity, or picked the wrong thing. Don’t feel like you’re looking for the one thing to make you happy. There are a lot of interesting jobs out there.” 

When the panel discussed how students can bounce back from failure in a research project or graduate experience, Dr. David Son, Professor in the Department of Chemistry, affirmed the students to not “take failure or rejection personally. Be persistent and don’t take the failure personal to your character. If you don’t want to fail, don’t try.”

Dr. Sarah Kucker, Professor in the Psychology Department, added to the resiliency conversation by talking about what to look for in a graduate school or industry position. “Fit is really important. Highlight the different qualities that you have and can bring to an experience,” she stated.

Dr. Crystal Clayton, Executive Director of the Hegi Family Career Development Center, concluded the discussion and reminded the students that in their careers they “will get out what [they] put into it. If you put a lot into the experience, you will have a very rich experience. If you take the time to do something, go full on.” 

The panel discussion and Q&A was a great way for the undergraduate researchers to receive some last moments of insight and advice as they finished out the SRI.




Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Three Minute Thesis competition results from the summer 2023

The Summer Research Intensive concluded with the Three-Minute Thesis Competition on July 27th. The competition gives SRI students the opportunity to display the research they conducted with their faculty mentor throughout the summer.

The competition was judged by a panel of Faculty and Staff members who selected a first place, second place and third place winner. Judges were Jennifer Ebinger (Director, Office of Engaged Learning), Stephen Fashoro (Media Relations Manager, Marketing & Communications), Dr. Eric Godat (Team Lead, Research & Data Science Services (OIT)), Sylvia Jones (Research Librarian for Spatial & Data Literacy, SMU Libraries), and Dr. Brandon Miller (Assistant Dean, University Honors Program & Fellowships).

Faculty and staff members from across campus also gathered to watch the students compete and discuss their research methods, findings, and next steps.

Winning presenters:

1st Place Winners – (L-R) Kendall Stieben, Jonathan Cox, Dr. John Buynak lab students
2nd Place Winners – (L-R) Elliott Abel, Jacob Britt, David Brock (Data Science REU program)
3rd Place Co-winners, (L-R) Ashley Pritchard, Katie Lark, Christine Jator (Data Science REU program)
3rd Place Co-Winner – Kevin Nguyen, Dr. David Son lab student