I began my research career in 2013 as an undergraduate in the Şekercioğlu Lab at the School of Biological Sciences. At the time, my research interests were very broad.
All I knew for certain was that I wanted to do lots of fieldwork, so I started a small-scale project in Red Butte Canyon using camera traps. I have definitely learned a lot along the way.
I didn’t necessarily see myself going to graduate school when I started working in the lab, nor did I have any idea that one, small-scale project would blossom into a full-blown research career, but that is the beauty of undergraduate research. The weekly lab meetings and interactions with fellow students piqued a curiosity in me I didn’t know existed. That curiosity continues to this day.
As a first-generation college student from Salt Lake City, I knew next to nothing about academic research other than that it intimidated the hell out of me. It wasn’t until I was consistently around other researchers, interacting with them on a daily basis that I started seeing myself as someone capable of pursuing it myself. That interaction was key.
Public opinion and portrayal of scientists as white-coat wearing, speedy-fast calculators with purely objective motives, always striving to remove both values and preconceptions from their work was the only previous “exposure” I ever had to this world. However, being able to work with these professionals, and noting that they are in fact just human beings like the rest of us, was an eye-opening experience.
Everyone wants a sense of belonging in their profession, and it wasn’t until I started working in a research lab that I truly felt like I belonged in academia.
Now, as a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate on the verge of graduating, I reflect fondly on my eight years with the School of Biological Sciences and the Şekercioğlu Lab. The experiences I have had, and the knowledge I have gained, have helped shape my beliefs, values, and way of thinking. It is this gift of the scientific process that I believe can benefit all members of society.
Whether at a lecture at a university, a presentation at a local or government agency, or a workshop at a prison or troubled youth facility, I am ever-aware of the power that shared knowledge can have, especially if it inspires action from others. This is why I will be forever dedicated to fostering relationships with members of the community that feel separated from academia, much as I did as an incoming college student.
By Austin Green
You can watch a short “Lightning Talk” by Green at the video above.