I have experienced scientific research in three very distinct settings. My first taste of research came as part of my honor’s thesis at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU). I developed a method for converting glycerin that is created as a waste product during the manufacturing of biodiesel into solketal, which was then used as a fuel additive in the biodiesel to prevent crystal formation in cold climates. As a primarily undergraduate institution, and completely undergraduate in the sciences, teaching is the primary focus of the faculty at SVSU. A number of professors do maintain active research projects, although they are small in scale since research budgets are very tight at that level and the work is completed by undergraduates that are also full-time students. While the work is certainly driven by scientific need and curiosity, there is a very large teaching aspect involved as well. The undergraduates that participate, including myself, gain invaluable skills that they take with them.
My second, although overlapping experience in research came as a co-op at The Dow Chemical Company while studying at SVSU. The research budget and goals in industry are diametrically opposite to what I had been exposed to at SVSU. The work is solely goal-oriented and, within reason, costs are irrelevant. Due to a reorganization shortly after I was hired, the cosmetic emulsions research group to which I belonged consisted of only myself and my supervisor, who did not work in the lab. I, therefore, immediately had a large amount of responsibility and was able to direct projects I was working on and see how they fit into the scope of the company’s purpose of profits.
The third form of research I have experienced is academic research at the R1 level. My graduate studies and postdoctoral experience have been at the University of Florida. I view the research here as a hybrid between my other two experiences. The work is done primarily for the benefit of science, not profits, yet the budgets are much larger than at SVSU. I have very much enjoyed my time here and have grown immensely as a scientist while gaining experience in education.
I believe that these experiences provide me with a
broad view of the interplay between science and
education. I remember what is was like to be
an undergraduate that's interested in research, I
remember being a graduate student that was doing
research as a form of education, and I am currently
doing research as a career. Teaching courses
in the sciences, I'm able to share these experiences
with my students. Whether it's context for the
material that we're discussing or career advice, I
find that it helps students grow as scientists.