Research in Rural Alaska

Posted by Ashley

Getting involved in undergraduate research is one of the most involving and unexpectedly enriching experiences one can have as a student. Students tend to think of research as something "extra" that they do- as if it were club or sport that fits into a little box and is only opened whenever it is time to get work done.  However, as a  psychology major who gets to travel to a remote village in Western Alaska, I have to protest that philosophy. My experience in research has gone so far above and beyond my wildest dreams that it still floors me sometimes to think about the projects I have been able to work on and the absolutely life-changing  effect this research has had on my academic and professional career.

Right now, I am actively involved on several projects related to Alaska Native cancer survivorship in Fairbanks and the Interior. Every chance I have had to travel, to meet people, and to hear stories has been a phenomenal experience. Just to live without cell service and a good internet connection for a few days really puts all of your values into perspective. You immediately start to focus more on what people are saying rather than thinking about that message your friend just sent you. You start to spend more time in conversations because you realize that, really, you don't have to be somewhere at that very second. Before you know it, you start to forget why you ever needed all that other stuff in the first place, and by the time you get back you just miss the calm you felt while you were hanging out at the edge of the map.

Out of all the exciting opportunities I have taken advantage of over the course of my college career at UAF, I still go back to my decision to start working for my mentor as being perhaps the most pivotal decision that I made. From there, everything just became more and more and more amazing until I can look back on the last three years with complete satisfaction on what has been accomplished. The work is intriguing to me, challenging in multiple ways, and keeps me going. It makes me excited to get up in the morning, and leaves me with a smile on my face when I go to sleep at night. It feels like a calling. 

And honestly folks, isn't that why we're here?

For those of you wanting to get involved in undergraduate research (and you should try!), here are some tips: 
  1. Don't wait until your a senior to get involved.  Heck, why not start as a freshman!
  2. Find the mentor in your major/field you are most interested in working with.
  3. Don't be afraid to ask questions/ mess up/ admit when you need more time/ admit when you don't understand something important. 
  4. Be prepared to work on projects that are not exactly what you originally hoped to do. Independent projects are really hard and time consuming, and many professors want to test your skills on their own work first. Plus, you never know, it may become your passion too!
  5. When working with people, remember to listen actively.
  6. Always, ALWAYS be respectful, courteous, and open-minded when working with mentors or participants. 
  7. Don't be ashamed when you start to get seriously worked up and excited about your field/ work/ project. It happens to the best of us, and we CANNOT CONTAIN ALL THE JOY SOMETIMES. 

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