Exploring undergraduate research work

Posted on October 16, 2017

By Jackson Empey

During the summer after his third year, Queen’s engineering student Jacob Carlos earned a job as an undergraduate research assistant in the in the lab of professor Pascale Champagne.

“There are a lot of opportunities for undergraduate research, but you really have to seek them out,” says Carlos. 

His research involved exploring chemical processes that turn biomass into usable fuels. Although the work was outside the normal scope of Carlos’ studies in civil engineering, he says the opportunity allowed him to diversify his knowledge base.

“I’m a civil engineering student, so it was definitely new,” says Carlos. “But it helped me to get out of my comfort zone. It was definitely doable; just a matter of putting in the work, reading papers, and asking questions.”

Carlos says his close work with graduate students as an undergrad research assistant helped him get a better sense of what grad school might be like. The experience in Champagne’s lab helped him decide that he wanted to further pursue a career in research. He’s choosing between master’s programs at Queen’s or Carleton in the fall of 2017 with an interest in hydrology: the study of surface and subsurface water movement.

Jacob Carlos
DEVELOPING EXPERIMENTS: Queen’s engineering student Jacob Carlos will be applying the experience he gained in undergraduate research in pursuit of his master’s in the fall.

One big lesson Carlos says he took from undergraduate research is the value of good communication. It’s an integral part of the scientific process and building a sustainable base of scientific knowledge, he says.

“The main focus is to go to work and work your hours,” he says by way of advice to future undergraduate research assistants. “At the end of the day, you’re a scientist. Developing experiments, that’s your work.”