10cc’s of experience. Stat!: Reflections from an undergraduate researcher

KBS undergraduate summer researcher Parker Anderson is a pre-medical student at Michigan State University. He wrote about his Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship (URA) experience working with Kate Glanville, an LTER & GLBRC graduate student in Phil Robertson’s lab. Parker was funded by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.


As a pre-medical student at Michigan State University, I was nothing less than bewildered and intimidated as my research mentor, Kate Glanville, drove my colleague and myself through the Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) site. The sights, sounds, and terminology used were just as foreign to me as anything I had learned in my Japanese Language classes. And as the thought of working in this unknown environment and area of study dawned on me, I felt uneasy. Unsure of how I would handle working in the field, how I would come to understand and properly use the lexicon of an ordinary field ecologist, and how I would be able to give back to this program.

Building rainout shelters for field application.

Building rainout shelters for field application.

From that moment, I did the only thing I knew how to do: show up to the lab every day at 8:30 am and do what was asked of me. Although I did blunder along the way, I did my best. I often had questions relating to exactly what I was doing, and exactly how it will benefit our project. I repeated these actions for the duration of my summer here at KBS. This lasted for roughly twelve weeks. Each morning I was assigned new tasks: trim the grass in the rainout shelters, plant flags in field sites, give a tour of the LTER to high school students. Each day was different, yet, revolved around the same actions mentioned above: showing up, doing what was asked of me, and asking tons of questions. At the end of my time here, I had prepared an independent project based on the impacts of rain on nitrous oxide (a powerful greenhouse gas that I previously knew little about), given talks in both lab meetings and large-scale symposiums, and completed a course in responsible conduct of research.

Now, this might seem confusing for those of you who are familiar with pre-medical, or any pre-professional training, where simply showing up to events is almost never a good thing and will almost always get you nowhere. As well, it’s well known that pre-medical students want to show each other up, be the person at the front of the room, and be a leader. However, for this project, I simply showed up; I was the person at the back of the room, and I was a follower. But, I made being a follower and a listener my strong point.  Many would say that this was the worst thing I could have done. Many would say that it would do nothing but hurt my future chances at getting into medical school, however, I can safely say that this was one of the best positions I could’ve ever been given.

Presenting my findings at the Undergraduate Research Symposium

Presenting my findings at the KBS Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The amount I learned from stepping outside of my extroverted comfort zone was astronomical. I was given time to think and to question: How does this relate to what I want to do? What similarity does this have to my major? Should I really be using a power tool for this? These thoughts and questions were quite different from what I was used to pondering: How will this make me look better? Why would I take this class if neither my major, nor the American Association of Medical Colleges require it? When should I start studying for the MCAT? This difference in thought patterns ultimately left me as an individual more focused on connections and similarities than on differences and separations, more focused on critical thinking than on thinking the same way as the rest of the group, and more focused on rounding myself out as an individual than trying to fit the traditional mold of an American pre-medical student.

If I had to give any piece of advice based on what I learned this summer, it would be this simple piece of advice: If you’re doing what seems comfortable, what seems normal, what the group has decided to do, go in the opposite direction. I could’ve spent my summer taking community college classes and getting ahead academically like all my friends were doing. Instead, I chose to go down a different path, a road that pre-meds tend to steer away from, and I can easily say that, to date, this is the best move I’ve made in both my academic and professional careers.

Taking a break from a long session of field-work.

Taking a break from a long session of field-work.