What Does It Really Mean To Do Research?Huang Fellow Meera Patel reflects on the importance of community in research.
Most of us knew what we were signing up for. Admitted into the Huang Fellows program, my cohort and I were to spend our summer doing research. But on the first day, as I walked into Orientation in the BullPen, I’ll admit I had no idea what I was getting into. Research, while not new to me, was a field I didn’t know how to navigate. Perhaps that’s why our first speaker of the summer was Dr. Beth Sullivan, the director of the MGM Summer Undergraduate Research Program and the Director of the Genome FOCUS program, as well as a lab mentor to one of our very own Huang Fellows.
Research, Sullivan said, was about critically examining ideas, thinking outside the box, and formulating new principles. But research is also a community. Pulling up her research family tree with names like Thomas Hunt Morgan, Dr. Sullivan emphasized the importance of relationships and inheriting the legacy of those who came before you. I realized then that doing research wasn’t just an individual task, but reliant upon a great number of people, who would serve as a network, both in academic endeavors and beyond.
In order for those relationships to be successful, it was our responsibility to put our trust in our research mentors, to be transparent and flexible, and above all, to communicate. Being honest and open, even when it was difficult, even when we had trouble understanding something, even when we didn’t like or enjoy a part of the lab, and communicating that clearly and efficiently was the key to a solid foundation on which to begin and grow not only relationships in the lab and in the research we would be doing over the summer, but also skills we could apply to the professional world and our lives beyond college. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect all the time, including in our research.
It’s hard when we don’t understand something or when we make mistakes. But Dr. Sullivan understood us. It’s okay to make mistakes, she said. What’s important is that you practice and learn from every experience. Be open-minded and creative because research will expand both your mind and your opportunities. And finally she said, perhaps speaking to the curiosity and excitement brimming in the room, always have at least one question to ask.
Meera Patel, Huang Fellow ’25
Meera Patel is on the pre-med track planning to pursue a Program II major exploring the application of ethics and ethical principles to the biomedical field.