Having been on one co-op already, I thought I knew exactly how the next co-op would be. During the application stage for my second co-op, I had the opportunity to get in contact with a professor at the University of Cambridge Material Science department. After some interviews and paperwork, I was accepted to his research group for a 6-month co-op. Suddenly, everything I thought I knew about how my next co-op would go changed. The research I would be doing was in the nanotechnology field, a field I knew very little about.
I had the opportunity to get trained to use a number of new instruments and highly advanced microscopes
Once I got there, I started working on a project that was being funded by the European Research Council. The project was to develop a carbon nanotube–based heater paint that could be sprayed on aircrafts to prevent and remove the build-up of ice on wings and critical components. I knew nothing about how airplanes work and I definitely had no idea how to de-ice one. Luckily, the fast pace of the classes at Drexel was still with me and within a couple of weeks I knew almost everything there is to know about the current methods of de-icing and the problems involved with them.
Being able to work on my own project where I would have to do all the experiments myself, analyse the data and present during our weekly meetings helped me improve my presentation and lab skills immensely. I had the opportunity to get trained to use a number of new instruments and highly advanced microscopes, which helped me get ahead of some of the labs I had during the following 6 months of classes.
This co-op was completely different from my previous one (which was more like a 9-to-5 research internship) as never came to the department before 10 a.m. but I never spent less than 8 hours in the lab, sometimes up to 16 hours a day for a week straight. The best part of this research was being able to help PhD students and post-docs in the group on their projects and learn from them. One great part about that was seeing their reactions when they realised I’m not another PhD student and I’m just a 19-year-old undergraduate student.
This experience showed me how much I would love to work in this kind of research environment and it helped me figure out what I would like to do after graduation.