The year was 2014, I was about six months out from finishing a BSc (Adv) and the future looked like the frayed end of a rope – many pathways existed, but which ones would I be able to follow? Could I get into an honours program? Would any medical school want me? Where can I work over the summer? Is the answer 42?
Then, in the shape of a well-placed ad on the back of a toilet door, came an opportunity to apply for a summer research scholarship. Eight weeks, research experience, specifically for undergraduates. (In 2015 it’s online – apply here!)
The most self-defeating question that can push you away from these sorts of opportunities is: why would they want me?
Anyone can ask this question, but don’t accept a self-critical answer! As young people it’s difficult to appreciate what we can bring to academic and professional spaces. Young people (and Wizzies in particular!) have an incredible capacity to contribute with new ideas, problem solve like it’s the 21st century, and be curious & bright eyed enough to ask the best questions. Putting yourself out there and trying new things is quintessentially a good thing! It’s not easy, you may close your eyes before pressing the submit button, but do it anyway.
For me, applying to do a summer research project was a way to keep my options open for 2015. I checked the boxes beside ‘data analysis’ and ‘systematic review’ and wrote short paragraphs about Indigenous health, immunology and psychology. On one hand were tangible skills I wanted to develop, and on the other were key interest areas for me.
Multiple emails and one phone interview later I was brought into the world of oral health research and its intersection Indigenous health through the Poche Centre. My project was to conduct a systematic review of teledentistry.
(Translation: what has been written on about oral health consultation and treatment on virtual platforms (real-time videoconferences and/or uploading patient profiles with pictures, x-rays and CTs attached)? Have those studies be effective, reliable, replicable, or successful? In the long term, could teledentistry link rural and remote oral health therapists with city based resources and dentists?)
Reflecting on the busy time that was the project period (and also preparing to move interstate), I couldn’t have had a more uniquely stimulating two and a half months. Reading through titles to include or exclude, analysing discussions and learning to use new programs can be interesting with the right attitude, especially when you know what you’re doing is useful work.
What I didn’t fully realise at the time was that that these summer research projects can rapidly lead to opportunities beyond eight weeks of research. Whether it be a direct extension of the work done over the summer, or a tangential opportunity, grasping onto one piece of the rope allows you to weave it into your skill set and strengthen what you’ve been building up throughout university.
If you have an inkling of interest in research, or you want to build up skills (those elusive ‘graduate attributes’ we’re meant to know about) definitely apply to do a summer research project. Stay flexible, ask questions, and jump on quirky opportunities – it’ll be fun!