My name is Chan Lu and I am from China. I am a rising senior at IU where I plan to finish my Biology major and Linguistics minor during the fall semester. Currently, I am conducting research in both linguistics and astrophysics. I want to be a linguist, astronomer, and fiction writer.
Here is a story: when I was a child, my mother bought me “One Hundred Thousand Whys” which are popular science book series in China for children. We had several books, including medicine, math, music, geology, social commons, and so on. I would only read the book that focused on astronomy.
I think most people aren’t able to resist the temptation of beautiful stars and galaxy. I am deeply curious about the mechanisms and principles behind those beautiful stars and the cosmos. I feel lucky that I have been able to pursue my interest in astronomy by conducting research alongside Professor Catherine Pilachowski.
Professor Catherine Pilachowski has been my faculty mentor in the field of astronomy since I was a first-semester junior. In our lab, the goal is to discover new techniques to analyze star clusters.
For my summer research, I did infrared photometry of globular cluster NGC 2419. My project focused on finding the CN band’s relationship with luminosity and temperature.
My lab normally utilizes IRAF software designed for astronomers. However, doing research remotely meant that I’ve had to use Python, Excel, and ImageJ (a Java-based image processing program developed at the National Institutes of Health).
Being a part of this project has enabled me to experience the research process thoroughly. Before conducting research, I wasn’t sure that graduate school was for me, but now I’m considering it because I like problem-solving and learning a subject in great depth.
I didn’t conduct research until junior year, which is kind of late compared to some other undergraduate researchers. I originally believed it was best to wait and gain more knowledge before I joined a lab.
While this had benefits, you don’t need to worry about not having enough experience to be ready for a lab. The professor of the lab will teach you more project-related information. It is better to learn as you do the research.
When I reached out to Professor Caty, I did not have in-depth knowledge of her research topics besides what I found on the Astronomy Department’s website. However, she was nice enough to schedule a meeting and provide me the opportunity to introduce myself. I was very happy when she invited me to join the lab.
To learn more about the project, I audited Professor Caty’s class. During her class, I learned stellar astrophysics and Python. I also learned how to read astronomy papers and fully absorb the information. This was vital for me to do research and has saved me a lot of time. I highly recommend that you either enroll in or audit the class your faculty mentor teaches if that is an option.
I recommend joining a lab or a group early into your undergraduate experience so you can have more results and/or write a paper. Additionally, if you don’t like the research or the field you’re in, you would be able to change your major or lab. Starting research early means you have more options.
If you have enough time, it can be beneficial to try different labs, including labs in disciplines outside of your major. The research process is similar, but it is possible to gain different perspectives from different subjects. In addition to astronomy, I also conduct linguistics research. By having both experiences, I’ve developed skills suitable for any field in the natural sciences, social sciences, and even beyond.
Research can equip an undergraduate with a variety of skills. Attending conferences and presenting can develop public speaking skills. Before giving a presentation, I focus on organizing my language and preparing an explanation that can be understood by a diverse audience. Audience feedback is important to consider when determining whether you have successfully explained your research.
Writing papers is another important step in gaining a more in-depth knowledge of a research project. There is no doubt that we may meet some problems along the way. For example, research papers always require us to explain the reason behind results or what can be concluded from the results. Often, gaps within my knowledge of the methodology, results, and conclusions that I didn’t notice before writing arose.
While it can make me feel stuck, it pushes me to think logically and determine the cause of the gaps. It could be that I don’t fully understand the mechanism behind a phenomenon or that I need to improve the data itself. Writing can help me find the problems within my research and improve my ability to problem-solve.