As a current chemistry graduate student at Rice university, I would say it is my undergrad research experience that gave me the confidence to apply for graduate school. Undergraduate research convinced me that science is not as hard as I thought. There are several reasons to do summer undergrad research.
Summer undergrad research can open the window for you to real science, instead of staying in the textbook. In the lab, there is never going to be 100% yield when you run a reaction, and will never gonna be 100% purity when you try to purify your compounds.
On the other side, you can’t make most things work based on the knowledge that you learn from the coursework alone. You need to repeat the experiment and try to solve the problem based on your own experience. After doing all the experiments, again and again, you finally did it! This will give you a sense of fulfillment. And it is the fulfillment that you gain from your research that will keep you moving forward. You may also realize that a research career is not what you are looking for - and this is fine! All you need to do is just keep looking until you find the area where you are passionate. It is really difficult to target the life goal that you want to achieve; it is relevant and easier to figure out things that you don’t like.
Summer undergrad research can help you expand your academic network if you are going to apply for graduate school. When you apply for graduate school, you will need to provide letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, etc. If you have worked in a lab before, all the time that you have spent in the lab will let the professor get to know you well. In this case, you will get a strong recommendation letter. You can ask the graduate students in the lab for help as well, as they will have application experience to share. Most importantly, let’s say, you work very hard and you are pretty lucky. You have a publication from your summer research project. This will be really good support for your graduate school application. Graduate student life is most likely focused on research instead of coursework, so entering a lab for summer undergrad research would always be a good idea for a student who wants to go to graduate school in the future!
About the author: Ying Chen was born in China. She graduated from the Southern University of Science and Technology in 2019 with a B.S. degree in Chemistry. Currently, she works as a Ph.D. student in the Martí group in the Chemistry department. Her research interests include fluorescent surfactants, and photoinduced reactions.