Prapti Patel has always been fascinated with a simple idea.
“Something we could do today could change the course of tomorrow. …Something I could discover today may lead someone else to discover another thing and such a cycle could lead to a revolutionary change in our understanding of a subject.”
Prapti Patel is a third year undergraduate student in the USask College of Medicine. As an Undergraduate Student Research Assistant (USRA), Prapti assisted on a larger research project investigating the specific behavior of certain kinds of cells in resisting or increasing the spread of cancer.
What she discovered could be just one domino, but it could tip over many others, and create a whole new picture.
Research Projects vs other types of course work
Prapti said “I didn’t really know what to expect, going into research work,” except being sure that she would: 1) acquire new skills, and 2) be able to apply theoretical knowledge from her classes.
The main difference in research, as opposed to classes, is that “you have to make an effort to seek new information independently so that you can better understand what you are doing.”
As Prapti puts it “unlike classwork, there is no syllabus or a textbook that tells you what you need to and don’t need to know.” Research projects are a matter of finding what you need, when you need it.
Prapti says that a research experience reinforces many of the concepts learned as a student (and thought to have forgotten). “I really enjoy when I can integrate different ideas together and reinforce them with what I had learned previously.”
Building a research skillset – it’s not about content
Prapti declares that being part of and working on a research project has shaped her skillset to become a better and more adaptable student.
“I think to be a good researcher, the most important skill is patience. Things may not always work the first time you do them.”
Secondly, adaptability is important. “There will be things you have never done before and being open to learning is crucial.”
Determination and persistence are also important for research. “The fact that there’s always room for improvement is a good lesson.”
The Thrill of Discovery
The best part of research, Prapti said, was seeing the final results of a procedure, whether it was looking at cells after passing them onto a new plane or seeing the results after running samples on a gel. “It is very thrilling to find out if what you’ve been dong in the past few days or weeks has worked or not.”
Discovering is only the first part. “I also love sharing what I’ve learned with others, and learning about what they are learning.”
She also highlights the importance of communication to the larger – and even non-science – community.
“Being able to explain what you’ve done in a simple manner, instead of an overly complicated way [where you try] to sound smart. It’s so interesting how hard it is to describe something you think you know so much about to someone who knows very little about it. Very much a reality check.”
Being on a research team helped Prapti realize how much there is to know. “I’ve realized how little I know, but in a good way because it certainly motivates me to learn more.”
When learning new things (which happens every day in the lab), Prapti finds that taking her time, being patient and doing her tasks well has worked out better than trying to rush in order to get things done.
Research requires active learning, instead of passively listening to a lecture and taking notes. It’s a different skillset.
Advice to other students
The best way to get involved in research is to “figure out what topics you are interested in, find a professor who researches something similar to that and finally just reach out to them.” Drop in to office hours, or send an email to get your interests known.
Every year, there are numerous opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research with a faculty member – and they will work with you to find the funding.
An experience like Prapti’s could be your next summer adventure – and your work could be the next domino to fall.
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