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Preparing for grad school with undergrad research

AN INTEREST IN SOLAR FUELS: Queen’s engineering student Caroline Krzyszkowski chose graduate school at UBC after a successful run in undergraduate research at Queen’s.

 

By Ian Hogeboom-Burr

While other students were finding summer jobs in their home towns over the summer break after first year, Caroline Krzyszkowski was chasing down an opportunity that would change the course of her academic future.

Kryzszkowski, a chemistry specialization major, developed an interest in the research of Philip Jessop, a professor in the Chemistry Department here at Queen’s. Kryzszkowski was already considering pursuing graduate studies and Jessop’s research into switchable polymers sparked her interest. Kryzszkowski contacted Jessop, telling him that she wanted to help.

“He said, ‘Great, we’ll take you on as a student for the summer,’” Kryzszkowski recounts.

It was a volunteer spot but Kryszkowski got to do some independent work and to work closely with one of Jessop’s post-doctoral researchers. Their findings may get published in an academic journal, and if so, her name will appear on the research paper. It would be a great achievement for an undergraduate student. 

Kryzszkowski went on to summer research positions with engineering professors Pascal Champagne and Michael Cunningham over her following years at Queen’s. Kryszkowksi says she has so far stayed interested in chemical research, but found new areas of interest along the way that intrigued her.

Kryszkowski is set to graduate from Queen’s in the spring of 2017. For her fourth-year thesis, she studied wastewater remediation of dyes, work inspired in many ways by research she did with professors Jessop, Champagne, and Cunningham.

As she once forecasted, graduate studies are in the future for Kryszkowski, who is set to start graduate work at the University of British Columbia in the fall of 2017. Her studies there will focus on solar fuels and physical chemistry.

Reflecting on her experience in undergraduate research, Kryszkowski highlights the doors it can open. She says her work as an undergrad helped her build the confidence she needed to pursue graduate studies. She says also that exploring areas of research while still an undergraduate student helped her to decide where he areas of interest really lay.  

Ultimately, though, Kryszkowski has once piece of advice for undergraduate students:

“There are so many opportunities available,” she says. “You just have to go and find them, or make them yourself. I made my own opportunity in second year. If there’s a professor you’re interested in, just email them and they’ll let you know if they have opportunities. Even if you can’t find a paid job, the experience of volunteering will get you a lot. It’s worth trying out when there is no risk.”