There are many of us in NRES that want to make a positive impact when it comes to the environmental challenges we face as a global society. NRES students and staff have inspired me with the variety of options available and have shown what they look like. I have taken a keen interest in research in particular and finding ways to use it to generate insightful information that can be of important use in future decision making.
I recently finished some trials for a study on atmospheric CO2 level impacts on tomato plant immunity to a foliar pathogen (Botrytis cinerea) with an endophyte (Trichoderma harzianum) as its mutualistic partner aiding in said immunity. These trials were conducted in environmentally controlled CO2 chambers with help from staff at the Horticulture greenhouse and my PI (principal investigator) in the Soil Microbiology lab. The study can aid in better understanding how CO2 plays a role in plant immunity and if it worsens or improves plant health. Three different tomato plant species were also used to make comparisons of the species. These insights will allow decision makers to make decisions on the types of species that may be more efficient to use to grow tomatoes if one has better immunity than the others as CO2 levels continue to increase.
My project is just one of countless projects that can be done to gain knowledge for society to be better prepared with the coming changes that climate change will and is currently bringing about. My suggestion for those starting out in research fields of interest is to ask the professors who’s classes you enjoyed if they have positions available for an undergraduate research assistant. You can also do research for credit if there are not many options you find. Additionally, looking up or asking around about professors with your environmental interest, be it climate change, social sciences tied into environmental sciences, water quality, etc, goes a long way. Check out the papers the professor published and then send out an email expressing your interest in their research as well as a brief mention of who you are and why you are interested in working with them.
I have found that working in a lab and getting to know my coworkers, graduate students, and postdocs have all helped shape and narrow down my interests in research. I have also gained key skills throughout the years in four different labs that have aided me in my current and future work as well. Typically an undergraduate researcher is doing the research formed and constructed by other people. However, once confidence and more understanding of the research process builds, there may be opportunities to create your own project and apply for funding as well. The Martin Agriculture Research scholarship is a fantastic resource for NRES upperclassmen to take advantage of and apply to conduct their research of interest and present at the Undergraduate research Conference at Purdue. I would also lastly recommend to not be afraid to use your imagination to create projects that can create meaningful impact. It is young scientists like us that are needed to find solutions and create a better understanding of the challenges we face and how they will impact human society and non-human beings at large.
If you would love some guidance or ask more questions about this topic, I would happily oblige via my email email@example.com.