A female-presenting scientist in focus, surrounded by lab equipment. Two student research assistants listen to her explanation.

There were so many things to consider when I applied to Northwestern. Location, STEM programs, theatre programs, social life, campus beauty… It was an absolute whirlwind. The one field that was a mystery to me, however, was research.

The topic of rigorous inquiry in high school lends itself to a science fair project or the long AP Gov essay. It took my entire fall quarter to realize that the collegiate definition of research was vastly different and far more relevant.

In my first-year theatre class, we were given an incredible presentation from the Office of Undergraduate Research. The representative stressed that research wasn’t boring and wasn’t limited to chemistry, biology, and the like. She brought so many case studies to the table: students whose projects ranged from producing a show to writing a devised work about body image in America. Needless to say, we were all intrigued.

The pivotal moment for me in getting involved in the investigation side of this research institution was actually in my general chemistry lab several weeks later. While waiting for a solution to precipitate, my lab partner and I struck up a conversation with one of the teaching assistants. Aside from a vast knowledge of coordination chemistry, she had neverending praise of the undergraduate students with whom she bumped elbows in one of the many labs that fill the ground floor of Tech. My lab partner and I exchanged glances and we both knew we were hooked.

The search for finding a lab was easier than I could have imagined. I set up an appointment with my Neuroscience advisor who gave me a HUGE list of all the active research projects within the department. On top of the logistics, she stressed that most labs who want undergraduate research assistants are looking for students who “learn as they work” (in other words, underclassmen!).

I found a lab aligned with my interests in the field, sent an email, and suddenly I was speaking with one of the forefront researchers in the department. At first, I was a little concerned my theatre background wasn’t going to cut it in the big leagues. But, as we talked, she pulled out a reference book of various neurons and talked about them like any artist would. Biology was as beautiful to her as a well-staged production; at the end of the meeting, mutual passion spoke volumes.

Whether you have any interest in research or not, I absolutely encourage you to explore all of the opportunities in and outside your major of choice.  It may have all happened so quickly, but I never once doubted whether or not I belonged in the extracurricular studies at Northwestern. The most surprising homes can be found here when you push your boundaries!

Note:
This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.