I thought it might be interesting to write a post about what I’ve been doing all summer besides making podcasts with my bro-host. To catch anyone up who doesn’t know (and to lay it out and consider it for myself) I’m an undergraduate student majoring in physics at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. It’s a very strange thing. I haven’t written much about it, though I’ve mentioned it several times on the aforementioned podcast. Being a 32 year old undergrad surrounded by 19 and 20 year olds is a little bizarre and disconcerting. For some reason I constantly feel the need to announce that I am, in fact, comparatively old. I don’t know why. If I had to guess I’d say it’s some sort of defense mechanism. I tend to, when confronted by something that may be awkward in the future, like having to explain that I am ten to twelve years older than everyone in the room, get nervous and blurt out the thing that is the source of my nervousness or anxiety. I’ve tried to cut back on it, because I think all it serves to do is build a wall between myself and my fellow students. All of that really has nothing to with my research, but I thought I’d get it down in written form because, like I said, I feel the need to blurt out the thing that is the source of my anxiety. Although, I think it might come back into play at the end of this post.
For those who don’t know, STEM fields (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) have boss internships. They’re usually paid and you usually get to jump into real life research with real life scientists right away. They’re called REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) and they pay, on average, $4000 for 10 weeks of research. Now, an important piece of information is that I quit my job at Ace Hardware way back in March so that I could focus 100% on school (after failing my Linear Algebra mid-term and having to drop the class). It paid off actually and I ended up finishing my first year as a physics undergrad with a 4.0. But, I was living entirely on student loans, meaning I would have no income for the summer. My plan for the summer was to apply for a summer REU for both the money and the research experience. I applied to over 30 different internships. By the time most of the acceptance deadlines had happened in May, I had received over 30 rejection emails. Things were looking bleak. I really did not want to get a regular summer job.
Luckily, Rowan’s physics department took applications at the end of April for their summer internships, and I felt I had a pretty good chance to get one of those. Apparently it’s easier to get an internship at your home institution first and then do your next one someplace else. Around the same time, on the advice of the head of the department, I also applied for something called the New Jersey Space Grant. It’s a grant from NASA that supports aerospace research by students in New Jersey. The deadline for announcing the winners of that grant came and went, which was disappointing. However, I got an internship at Rowan, which meant that I didn’t have to get a summer job. Then, strangely enough I got an email saying that I got the NJ Space Grant. See, turns out that when I sent my application (by mail, because they only accepted application by mail for some weird reason) that they lost it and only found it again after they had announced internships. But, because I had a 4.0, they decided that I deserved that grant and so they gave it to me, but my internship position would remain at Rowan. Basically, I got slightly more money for my internship and Rowan got to keep the money they were going to pay me. Plus, I get to say that I won a Space Grant. SPACE! GRANT!
So, that brings me to the research part of my research. My field of interest is astronomy, you know, space stuff. However, my internship was with a researcher whose focus was on materials science. Don’t take that to mean that I don’t find materials science interesting, it’s just not what I plan on doing as a career. In fact, on day one I got to to learn how to use a big scary x-ray machine with the glowing radiation trefoil on it.
So ends part 1 of my summer research. I’m going to do a follow up post that focuses more on the research itself. So, if you want to know about that, come back in a week.