Conducting Summer Research at the Environmental Institute

October 14, 2021
Amélie Lemay

You're likely familiar with Princeton's senior thesis, where each student works closely with a faculty advisor to conduct original research, and you might have even heard of the "JP" or an "independent study," which are earlier opportunities for research. But there are also so many ways to get involved in research during the summer months, which offers you the chance to explore a research field at a time when you're not juggling your coursework. This summer, for instance, I got to work on an amazing molecular dynamics project with Professor Bourg through an internship with Princeton's High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI).

Each summer HMEI offers paid internships for Princeton students, many involving international travel! Some of the ones this year included studying rock dissolution in the French Alps, studying dinosaur extinction in the Andes mountains, and conducting X-ray diffraction experiments at Princeton. When Covid-19 travel restrictions led to my HMEI internship being transferred to an online format, I was initially disappointed (sadly no French Alps this year). But I found the new project, which studied organic contaminants via molecular dynamics simulations, to be incredibly fascinating and its findings applicable to the real world. I even decided to continue it this fall as an independent study with Professor Bourg, which will allow me to see the project through more of its phases.

The best part of research at Princeton, in my opinion, is getting to work closely with your professors. You see how they approach challenges and problem-solve in the quest to uncover new information and develop solutions, and they get to know your strengths, weaknesses and working style as well. For me, getting to know Professor Bourg was particularly rewarding because he is one of my professors this fall! When I walked into his class on my first day of Introduction to Environmental Engineering I was a little overwhelmed by seeing live people in the classroom! But Professor Bourg immediately recognized me and welcomed me to the class, which made me feel much less nervous and more comfortable.

My summer research brought me into a community on campus this fall, which has opened the door to meeting even more environmental researchers on campus. Each week at lab meetings I'll get to hear what the other graduate and undergraduate students in Professor Bourg's lab group are working on, and they can tell me about projects they've worked on with other professors in other departments. I'm really looking forward to continuing my project this fall and meeting more of the brilliant and welcoming people here at Princeton.

Rust-colored sculpture outside of Engineering building