Monday, January 10, 2011

How one work term changed all of my plans

As I said in my last post, I have post-graduation plans! After doing a lot of hard thinking and program-comparing throughout the fall, I've decided to return to McMaster this September for graduate studies, pursuing a Master's of Applied Science. I'm excited to share because I submitted my online application today, and I worked on the supporting documents over the holidays so now I just need to make sure everything arrives at the department. It's funny how much I've changed in the four and a half years since starting undergraduate...I entered with absolutely no interest in doing graduate studies, and now I can't think of anything luckier than being paid to learn.

The turning point for me - and, to be honest, one of the happiest surprises of my life - arrived while working in Ireland on a co-op term. I was participating in an undergraduate research program at the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (part of Dublin City University) in the summer of 2009, and I helped a researcher produce micro- and nano-channels for fluidics testing (the interactions between surfaces and fluids change at scales this small). Eventually, the channels were to be used for carrying biological samples in a device called a lab-on-a-chip. I had to test different materials to find the best one for stamping the channels (i.e. good reproduction of dimensions), and even though I wasn't passionate about microfluidics, I still couldn't believe how lucky I was to just learn, and have that be my job!

What completely changed my perspective was seeing an institute with connections to industry; before, I had thought that research was only learning for the sake of gathering knowledge (i.e. material properties like hardness when you change the composition) and hadn't bothered to learn otherwise. As it turns out though, many research groups work with companies to make the best use of their engineering, production, and marketing knowledge. I have to admit that travel had been my main motivation in applying for the program, but in the end my first research experience ended up having a huge influence on my goals and post-grad decisions.