The Summer, the REU, and Research Culture

By Rodolfo J. Romañach, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry
Site Leader ERC-SOPS


I see the summer as my time for reading papers, organizing for a challenging upcoming course, and working with graduate students on manuscripts. I believe that this “renewal time” is very important for a researcher and for this reason I have never taught a course in the summer. I look back at summers where this renewal was the key to successful research grants, and others that were essential in developing a new course.

These thoughts bounced back and forth through my mind as I listened to Dr. Ubaldo Córdova on his ideas for an NSF proposal on research opportunities for undergraduate students in the area of soft matter (REU). I was happy to learn about his dream of improving research on our campus, but at the same time concerned that this would take some time away from my summer plans. I agreed to support the program but not as active researcher, by providing a talk on writing skills for scientific communication, and some support funding through our Sloan Program of Exemplary Mentoring which is also focused on encouraging students to advance to graduate studies.

The REU proposal was approved and one of the students selected indicated his interest in working on near infrared spectroscopy, the area of expertise of my research lab. We were able to include this young researcher in our group plans and have one of my most memorable, happy, and productive summers. Fortunately, during the last year we have developed a research project within our Engineering Research Center for Structured Organic Particulate Systems (hppt://ercforsops.org) that involves all graduate students in our research group and Dr. Rafael Méndez from the Chemical Engineering department has also joined this effort. Four graduate students worked with Jacob Townsend, from Kennesaw State University, who will be completing his B.S. in Chemistry this next December. Jacob worked on a set of experiments in this group project, and very quickly understood the theoretical background and importance of the research. He also attended the IFPAC Summer Summit, a research meeting where our graduate students presented posters. He was exposed to the scientific literature, participated in the planning and performance of experiments, and made significant progress in the evaluation of the results obtained. By the end of the summer, he was working extremely well with our specialized software programs and studying them in detail. He developed a very well structured final report, which will form the basis of a future research paper. The results obtained were somewhat surprising and will have a strong impact on our future research.

This summer has been one my best, it was the renewal that I have always dreamed thanks to the team that we have developed. This summer has been successful thanks to graduate student Barbara Alvarado who served as the pre faculty mentor to Jacob and also thanks to Adriluz Sánchez, Carlos Ortega and Eduardo Hernández, graduate students who also worked with Jacob throughout the summer. Dr. Carlos Pinzón our new postdoctoral research associate also contributed, and Dr. Rafael Méndez served as Jacob’s mentor and suggested key experiments that made a big difference. We were able to advance research, meet several times to discuss important research papers, and I was also able to make two presentations at the World Conference on Sampling and Blending in Bordeaux, enjoy some vacation time with my family, and two manuscripts were submitted for publication.

Research culture is how researchers feel and see the uniqueness of their research environment. If after listening to the President or Chancellor speak about the importance of research, two researchers say: “Wonderful speech and plans, but the reality in Mayagüez is…”, they are describing our research culture. Research culture starts within our research groups and students, and developing a strong community around a group project can be very productive. I hope this summary is useful to new professors starting research groups within our Campus and University.

DSC_0921-1Poster Session (from left to right: Bárbara Alvarado, Eduardo Hernández, Dr. Carlos Pinzón, Dr. Rafael Méndez, Jacob Townsend, Dr. Rodolfo J. Romañach)


Más fotografías de la exposición de afiches del Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in Reconfigurable and Multifunctional Soft Materials 2015, que se celebró el pasado mes de julio.

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