UConn’s Office of Undergraduate Research each year provides Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) awards to support full-time undergraduate students in summer research or creative projects – an initiative that continues this year, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This summer, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is highlighting undergraduate student experiences through programs like SURF and other opportunities.
Name, pronouns: Eli Collins, they/them
Hometown: Glastonbury, Connecticut
Year: Rising senior
What inspired you to research this topic?
The topic I chose is a passion of mine that I’ve been interested in for most of my life. I wanted to explore something I have learned about extensively outside of schoolwork through an academic lens with critical analysis and use my insider knowledge of the topic to contribute meaningfully to research, that hopefully others can build off of in the future. It’s important to me as a queer person to see the interests and different lifestyles of myself and the community represented in academia, and I can only hope to inspire other queer kids to pursue what they’re passionate about, even if it seems silly or odd.
What is your favorite part about research?
I like the independence and somewhat open-endedness of the process with all of its trial and error. Working at my own pace in a schedule I’ve set is beyond helpful, especially in the time of Covid-19 and remote learning and working. Even though tasks might seem menial at times, I feel proud of the work I’m doing and my continued growth as a student, writer, and researcher.
How has your major(s) prepared you for your internship?
One of the best things about studying psychology at UConn is the variety. There are multiple paths you can take when it comes to specialization, and the size and funding behind UConn’s Department of Psychology allows students to figure out where they want to go with their major and find out what they are and aren’t interested in pursuing. Having a major with a research track has been especially helpful when you’re trying to figure out where to even start. Even taking one course specifically about research in psychology has been immensely helpful and has aided me in getting a position as a lab RA and making connections.
What are some tips for students interested in research?
Step out of your comfort zone! As someone who came into UConn with no research experience, it was difficult finding where and how to start getting involved; but between the Office of Undergraduate Research and your academic advisor, there are plenty of people willing to help you with the process and figuring out what seems right for you. No one is expecting you to do it all by yourself.
Second, don’t be afraid to take risks out of fear of making mistakes. Every step is a learning experience. Reaching out to professors or labs is a daunting task, but at the end of the day, everyone is human, makes mistakes and remembers what it was like to be an undergraduate finding their way in the academic and professional world.
Lastly, make connections. Go to professors’ office hours even if you don’t have questions about the course material. Talk to them after class about something that interested you during their lecture or lab. Find out what events the department is putting on that are open to students. Ask your TAs what their postgraduate process has been like and if they have advice. Most people are more than willing to talk to someone interested in their field of work and offer advice if you need it.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan on applying to graduate school and hope to take on a part-time position in a lab while I work on a graduate degree. I know that wherever I end up I’ll have plenty of options and opportunities that my cumulative semesters of research have helped open the doors to. Regardless, I just hope to be happy and doing work that I love.