This summer, I worked in a mechanical engineering lab at Princeton. There, I contributed to a project headed by a postdoc studying the diffusion of fluids and nutrients through soil and how this impacts the bacteria living in clay soils. These bacteria take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, but their behavior in specific soil conditions is difficult to determine, which relates my project to climate change and sustainability.
Something I found that I really liked this summer was working on a project that has environmental significance. I am interested in sustainability and environmental issues – I am part of the sustainability and resilience cohort, after all – but as a chemical engineering student it isn’t something that I am sure will be part of my career. However, I this summer I worked in a mechanical engineering lab on a project that related to the environment, which just showed me that there is environmental significance in so many different areas. I enjoyed knowing that the work I did had this significance, and I will move on from this experience knowing even more that my passion for the environment and for what I’m studying can be intertwined.
This summer I also discovered is that working in an academic lab might not be something that interests me after Princeton. I enjoyed having the freedom to explore an area of study and take my experiments in the direction I felt was best. For example, I often studied the movement of nutrients through wet or dry artificial clay soils, and depending on what I saw I could decide my next move – whether to repeat an experiment, change a piece of it, or move in an entirely different direction. While I enjoyed this for the summer, I don’t think I could see myself working in this mindset for an extended period of time. Instead of having to wait years to see the results of my study, I think I would prefer to work on shorter term projects, where I can see the results of what I do more quickly.
Overall, I am so thankful for this experience. Thanks to this project and those working with and around me, I learned so much about fluid mechanics, soil properties, cameras, and academic labs in general – all things I previously knew next to nothing about. But more importantly, I learned more about myself and what my future might look like.