If you’re anything like me, you’re interested in seeing what type of research goes on at a university like USC, even before you might’ve come to campus. It all seems very mysterious and out-of-reach, something that you hear talked about broadly all your life but never know exactly what it’s like behind those lab doors. Well, should you become an engineering student here, all that mystery is so easy to clear up!
When I was a freshman, even in my first semester, I decided to start as an undergraduate research assistant in an environmental engineering lab—and it was simple! All it took was a quick email to the professor who headed the lab, and then a quick coffee meet-up, and I was in! After some training, within a week I was heading in to help with the PhD students who were conducting their research in the lab. They focused on various methods of water distillation through different membranes, hoping to find ways to efficiently (cost-wise and energy-wise) turn wastewater into potable water.
Not being an environmental engineering student myself, and not even having taken a college-level chemistry class until that point, I felt really in over my head at the beginning. But the PhD students I was working alongside did an amazing job making me feel welcome and teaching me along the way. Although I didn’t end up continuing my research after freshman year, it’s definitely an experience I’d recommend! I had lots of fun, and it gave me a great perspective as to how true research is conducted at a high-level institution.
And the main point I want to drive home, too, is that you can also do this—it’s a lot easier to get involved than you’d think!