Guest Post: How I Gained an Interdisciplinary Research Perspective as an Undergrad in the Lab and Why it was Important to Me


Guest Post: How I Gained an Interdisciplinary Research Perspective as an Undergrad in the Lab and Why it was Important to Me

Güray Hatipoğlu
Güray Hatipoğlu

In this guest post Güray Hatipoğlu shares how his undergrad research experiences helped him find his current career path even though it wasn't an easy journey.

Starting out

In the beginning, as a first-year chemistry student, I didn’t t know all the differences among organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistry, or have a solid interest in any branch. So, I randomly chose to specialize in organic chemistry and found a faculty member who invited me to join their lab for one half-day a week.

At first, all was well. The graduate students explained their projects to me and I took notes and tried to understand what was expected of me. Sometimes, I helped clean the glassware (the first step in many laboratories). But then a PhD student bluntly stated that I was just a first-year student so I shouldn’t be there but instead should just take courses. I simply dropped from that laboratory without informing anyone. (It’s still hard to forget that PhD student’s discouraging reaction to my being in the lab.)

Trying again

After a while, I became interested in seeing live bacteria and eukaryotes under a microscope and I started to attend a molecular biology and genetics research laboratory. Unlike my previous case, more lab members were inclined to guide me through procedures, so I learned many things, ran gels, and read some scientific papers. However, the articles and experiments were distant from what I wanted to learn about and I lost the drive to learn more.

Moving on

Later, I volunteered in a limnology lab where I learned about various chemical processes. There, for the first time in my university years, I felt successful after I reduced the required time of a process from 2 hours to approximately 1 minute. I considered that if I kept doing interdisciplinary research, I would have many career opportunities. In other words, not jumping directly from one field to another, but instead seeping through the boundaries and adding new information on was what I wanted to do.

As I took more classes, I became more interested in analytical chemistry. Lucky me, I found an environmental analytical chemistry laboratory that needed a student from an air pollution for a joint project with a private company. At the company, I gained a tremendous amount of research experience and developed time-management skills. Sometimes I trained newcomers as well. Yet, I found air pollution studies to be less intriguing than environmental remediation.

Nevertheless, I did not directly go to a laboratory where they worked on water remediation. I was lacking in microbiology and after a seminar I met, and got to know, an enthusiastic faculty from Food Engineering Department who supervises the Food Safety Laboratory in METU. She talked about her research interests and suggested I read an introductory book (Fundamental Food Microbiology)1. I did and in two months I found a curious gap in the literature. After persuading my supervisor to write a project proposal to The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBİTAK), in order to score a grant specifically allocated to undergraduate research projects. But the project was rejected and suddenly everything fell apart.

Refusing to give up

I felt very down for a few months, then collected myself and located a faculty in Environmental Engineering who worked on organic pollutant remediation on sediments. The work was extremely intense, there were even times we entered the laboratory at 8:30 a.m. and quit around 11:00 p.m. If it were not for the skills I developed, and suggestions from different faculty on time management and studying, I would have failed miserably fail in all fronts.

But instead, I succeeded.

Lessons learned

During those times, I realized what I can do, like to do, and want to do. Now, I’m interested in nutrient pollution and how to get rid of it, and I’m satisfied working on these topics as well as currently studying restoration and management of the eutrophic Lake Manyas in Turkey.

The only shortcoming of my undergraduate years was not earning a research publication. If I stuck in one place, I might have earned an authorship or two. On the other hand, gaining an interdisciplinary perspective and experience allowed me to be an important player in a wide range of research projects. Knowledge of a major is a tool. To make the best use of it, one should think out of the box as well.

When Güray Hatipoğlu was an undergrad in the lab, he did research in chemistry, environmental engineering, food engineering, and biology. Now, he is a Ph.D. student in Earth System Science at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Turkey. He is currently working on a decision support system construction based on integrated ecosystem modeling for managing shallow lakes. He can be reached at gurayhatipoglu (at) He also writes a personal blog and a science communication blog.


1: Ray, B., & Bhunia, A. K. (2014). Fundamental food microbiology. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.