Name:  Mariah Whitaker

     Class Year/Year of Graduation:   Class of  2015

     Major/Graduate Program: BS in Chemistry

     Newly hired as Undergraduate Researcher at the University of
      Kentucky- Lexington, Kentucky (NSF Research Experience for
      Undergraduates Program)

Where did you hear about this professional opportunity, and what do you think contributed to being hired?  At the beginning of my junior year, I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school to receive a PhD.  Preferably in chemical engineering, but I had not totally discounted chemistry graduate school.  However, I did not know what I needed to do to become a competitive applicant for graduate school.  So, I decided to call a graduate school administrator and asked them what do I need to do to become a competitive applicant.  The administrator said that my number one priority should be applying to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.  She told me that this paid summer internship would not only give me the research experience and skills, but also show that I have the drive and potential to succeed in graduate school.

The application process and the internship experience in general simulate what it will be like to apply to and later work in graduate school.  As a part of the application, I had to submit at least two letters of recommendation along with written essays about your research experience (whether it be lab courses or other internships/jobs) and research interests.  Having good recommendation letters from people who are familiar with your academic experience is crucial; so notify your letter writers early (and remind them) so they have time to produce a well-thought letter.  The letters that my academic advisor and my athletic advisor wrote were crucial to me being hired.  I also think doing research on the projects that the advisors of the program were doing helped me get hired.  Not only was I allowed to show that I knew some fundamental knowledge about their research (professors love when you show interest in their projects), but also I was able to describe how my research interests tied in with theirs.

How did Xavier's Career Development Office help you along the way to achieve this accomplishment?   The Xavier Career Development Office helped me initially with writing a clear concise resume, which I had to submit with my application.  At first I thought that the Career Development Office was mainly geared toward business majors, but when I actually met with someone in the office, I was given examples on how to write a resume specifically for a research type job.  The Career Development Office also paired me with a mentor in the Mentoring Program who has given a lot of insight about the working of graduate school and later an industry career, which is my ultimate goal.    

What advice do you have for students as they gear up for their job and internship search?  1.) Make a plan and be proactive:  Start researching several REU programs early and start prioritizing them.  In your research, make sure the research being done in the program is interesting to you.  Also, plan to apply to several since REU programs are very selective.  Most importantly be aware of the deadlines!!

2.) Be open to new experiences:  Don’t be afraid to apply for programs at a far away location (regional or international) or take on a project you don’t know as much about.  REU programs are meant to challenge you, and you are successful if you are adaptable – which ultimately translates to success in graduate school.

3.) Build Bridges:  The most valuable thing I learned from my experience was that making lasting relationships is crucial.  You can do this before getting into a program by calling advisors and showing your interest in their project (opening lines of communication).  And maybe later they can help you get into a program. 

If you are accepted into a program, connect with as many people as you can.  In the program, you will work with PhD advisors, graduate student mentors, and other undergraduate students.  These relationships will not only broaden your professional network, but also provide you with valuable friendships.