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Advice from young veterans of the research lab

Northeastern University undergraduate student researcher Mathew Chamberlain doesn’t like to waste time.

In the morning, he parses The New York Times’ science news, reads the latest issue of Nature magazine and goes to calculus class. For the rest of the day, he investigates prostate cancer, on co-op in Northeastern’s Integrative Graduate Education and
Research Traineeship nanomedicine lab.

Chamberlain, a third-year physics major, was one of five undergraduates who gave students advice on how to chart their own path to undergraduate research at a recent Town Hall-style meeting at West Village G.

“Having a goal-oriented state of mind and a willingness to learn is critical if you want to do good research,” said Chamberlain, who expects to coauthor up to three papers on his research in the nanomedicine lab.

“Read your professors’ publications,” he added. “You will be surprised by what they’re studying.”

Chamberlain was one of three students on the panel who participated in PRISM, an initiative that connects Northeastern mathematicians, physicists and biologists with first- and second-year students who want to learn more about math and science research-related co-ops and internships.

The program is supported by a five-year, $1.98 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

“One of the main goals of this project is to increase the number of science, technology, engineering and math majors at Northeastern,” said Christos Zahopoulos, the executive director of Northeastern’s Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education, and an associate professor in both the College of Engineering and the Department of Education.

“We wanted to make sure students are aware of the research opportunities that exist through co-op at Northeastern, and we thought inviting students to talk about their co-op or research as undergrads would be a good way to do that,” Zahopoulos said.

Third-year chemistry major Billy Smith coauthored an article in Nature magazine about a promising treatment for a specific carcinoma, based on research he did on co-op at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Next year, he’ll do his second research co-op, starting at Dana-Farber and then completing it at the Structural Genomics Consortium, at the University of Oxford in England.

“Pursue research in a field or lab that’s exciting to you,” said Smith, who credited his lab work in class with preparing him for co-op. “Don’t just do it for the sake of doing research.”

Third-year mechanical engineering major Leo Byun is on co-op in biology professor Dagmar Sternad’s Action Lab, which explores the control and coordination of goal-directed human behavior. He’s studying how humans perform tasks with time delays.

“I wanted to be part of designing cool machines and devices,” said Byun, who hopes that his research could be used to help NASA maneuver the Mars Rover with extreme precision from 36 million miles away. “PRISM helped me get started.”

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