Undergraduate Research, Exposed!

by Nick Terhall

As far as college jobs go when classes are in session, most are less than glamorous. Whether students work at the dining facilities, at a local restaurant or retailer, or perhaps cleaning up after a home football game, most college jobs serve only to help out with book and pizza costs. While I certainly don’t claim that my job is any more glamorous (you’ll soon see why), I definitely don’t dread going and putting in the hours to make sure I can afford pizza that week.

Terhall blog 1Hard at work taking water samples

I work as an undergraduate research assistant in the Agriculture & Biosystems Engineering Department here on campus under Dr. Michelle Soupir. I, along with another undergraduate student, basically manage her lab and assist her graduate students with anything they need for their theses or projects. I’ve been there almost two years now and really couldn’t ask for a better college job. Sure there are plenty of less-than-glamorous aspects, such a beef and poultry manure sampling, E-Coli and salmonella cultivation, wearing full chest waders in 120 degree heat for two full days of river sediment sampling, and getting absolutely drenched while taking water samples during the heaviest thunderstorms of the year, but they are also the reasons why I enjoy my job so much.

Terhall blog 2120 degree heat and full chest waders don’t mix

No two days are ever the same, which makes going in to work all that much more enjoyable. I also have the freedom to largely set my own hours, which is a huge benefit as I try to put in around 8 hours a week around classes, clubs, and student government. Besides that, being close to a professor has proved invaluable when the time for needing references has come around. But perhaps the most enjoyable part of my job is the people I get to work with and the fun we get to have while at work. I am very fortunate to be able to work with an extremely laid back research group who knows how to keep things lighthearted and interesting. The job provides me with plenty of stories of things I’ve done, such as setting off smoke bombs, killing rabid skunks, chasing baby cows, finding the world’s smallest church while driving to a field site, and pulling pranks involving rubber mice on graduate students.

Terhall blog 3Taking a break from soil sampling to play improvised lawn darts!

Now you might be asking yourself “How do I go about getting myself such an awesome college job?!” I got mine through the Honors Program Mentor Research Program, but that is definitely not the only way to obtain a research assistant position. Many professors across the university either have extra grant money and not enough hands in the lab, or know someone who does. It’s often simply a matter of asking a professor you might enjoy working with if they have any extra research work!

Terhall blog 5Way too excited about midnight water sampling during a torrential downpour

All in all, I couldn’t ask for a better college job. I couldn’t see myself working anywhere else while in school. That being said, I have also discovered that the Ag. & Biosystems Engineering field is not one in which I would like to further pursue a career, which isn’t a bad discovery at all. So until I manage to finish my Aerospace Engineering degree and get into that field, I’ll be enjoying the time I have left wading through the mud!

Terhall blog 4Does your job let you set off smoke bombs at work?


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