Maria Astrid Campos Mata heard about the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium by chance. She met current Rice students visiting her home country of Mexico, and they encouraged her to apply to the symposium. She had just decided on a career in research and was eager to gain more experience.
“I decided to apply to GCURS to get out of my comfort zone and gain experience,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t have the chance to present our work to a different audience outside of our school. The fact that it was open to international students was great. I applied on the first day.”
When preparing for the symposium, Astrid practiced her presentation with her friends as her audience.
“I was nervous before GCURS! English is not my first language, but I practiced with some of my friends and with my adviser. I showed him the presentation and practiced a lot!”
Astrid also met up with current grad students the evening before the symposium, during a barbecue at Valhalla, the student bar on the Rice campus.
“They asked us about our research, and it was good practice for the next day – which was a great day!” she said. “I remember it was helpful when they said you can make connections at GCURS if you are applying to Rice. They said just talk to professors, and learn about their research, and not to be nervous. I was so nervous before my presentation but a professor told me that sometimes we are so hard on ourselves – but we know ourselves and know what to say and can stay calm, he was totally right.”
She does warn against overdoing it and enjoying the conference to the fullest, outside of presenting.
“I think it is important to mention that I didn’t practice much more when I arrived in Houston. I did just a few times, but I didn’t worry about it because I wanted to make connections and network. I went to the barbecue where I met some grad students, and it was great. No one else from my university attended, but that was good because I was out of my comfort zone and I got to meet more people.”
Astrid ended up finalizing her grad school plans during the symposium, crediting her conversations with current graduate students and faculty as a major influencer in her decision.
“At lunch the day of the symposium, I sat next to Dean Seiichi Matsuda,” she said. “I told him about my plans and how I was thinking about a research career and applying to grad school in 2021. He asked me what I was waiting for – and I decided he was right.”
Astrid began her first semester at Rice University in fall 2020 and is excited about diving into materials science research. For Astrid, it comes down to passion for the work.
“I realized that it doesn’t matter if it is hard – I could do this all my life, no matter what,” she explained. “The most important thing is how you can contribute to the world and research is my way to do that.”