Among the Titans

I wanted to take a bit of time to build on our previous conversation regarding how we as scientists and academics engage and interact with the arena that is our laboratory.

Starting next week I'll be welcoming a total of six undergraduate students into my lab for the remainder of the summer to observe, engage, interact, and ultimately experiment with some of the novel materials I have been synthesizing over the last year. In terms of experimentation, there are multitudes of methodologies that various research groups employ: ours effective boils down to starting with an idea/chemical that we've both made and shown to previously work in some fashion, perturbing said chemical in every conceivable way possible, and testing it via every piece of equipment we have to see if our perturbations enhanced any characteristics of the given chemical species.

I'm a little nervous going into this phase of summer research because of how polar-opposite this experimental approach is compared to the research environment I worked in at the University of Idaho. Under Dr. Utgikar, the methodology for study didn't place emphasis in the chemical, but in the process. Even though the research we conducted out of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering engaged in conversations very grounded in chemistry, the novelty really wasn't in the chemical species we tested; the ingenuity came from in the continuous-flow adsorption column that we engineered specifically for experimentation.

Thinking in terms of steady-states, even though my two experiences in research are vastly differing between my previous undergraduate institution and current graduate university, I hope that I can establish some constants that can carry through from my former laboratory to my current.

Firstly, and most importantly, I hope that I can instill a sense of belonging to the group. I don't want their summer grind to feel like causality from being pieces in a hierarchy. I hope to engage, inspire, and even learn from these experiences that will be unfolding as the season moves onward, the same way I was in my research infancy. I don't think that such a vision can be maximized if my students feel like they are subordinate to an excessive degree.

Secondly, I hope that over the course of time passed, they can gain some comfort and independence in regard to chemical synthesis. One of the things I really enjoy about chemistry is the physicality of the research: gloves on, goggles tightened - manipulating matter itself to conform to our desires and design. I want to instill that passion I have for chemistry into my undergraduate students so that they may too wish to pursue research further as they continue forward in their education.

Finally, I want them to feel as if they have a worthy voice in the conversation. This is why I decided to name this post "among the titans". In undergrad, I got lucky in this respect, because the graduate student I worked with I had known from his undergraduate days in the department. We were comfortable discussing ideas, perspectives, problems, and ultimately solutions. Neither of us pretended we knew everything, but our mutual drive for finding solutions allowed us to work together to overcome all obstacles, and create a device that would translate our thoughts to publishable data. Together we were titans.

I think my thoughts can be summed to the following: I don't want to be the titan that my students have need to fear.

Not because I am not a titan (as egotistical as that may sound), but because I believe that each and every one of them has the potential to rise up and stand along side me in our endeavors, as we together wrestle to find the hidden truths that the world has yet to reveal.

Because I believe they too can stand among the titans.


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