There’s a lot to consider when choosing a graduate school: the location, the research, the advisor, the curriculum, the students, etc. For Arin Sutlief, who studies under Dr. Rebecca Lai, one thing separated UNL’s Chemistry Department from others—the Research First philosophy. The hallmark of this philosophy is to emphasize research in the first year of study, instead of coursework. Students select and join research groups upon arriving in Lincoln and have the option of sampling (i.e., doing research rotations) several groups before making a final choice. Coursework is still important in the first year but the emphasis is on research. This approach is unique to UNL Chemistry.

“The Research First program has always been my number one reason for coming here,” commented Arin. “I came to UNL because I thought the research I would be working on would be a good start for my career. With the Research First program, I knew when I was accepted what research I would be involved with right away, and I got in the lab I was most interested in.”

Arin’s mentor choice and research area have turned out to be an ideal fit for her career aspirations and growth as a scientist.

“UNL is where I received all my research experience, and it has opened up numerous options in the science world to me. I've also taken many fascinating courses that have exposed me to even more than I knew to be out there. Plus, I've had the opportunity to volunteer for various outreach events, exposing the community to the wonder of chemistry and undergraduate students to the world of chemistry through my teaching experience.”

Arin credits much of her growth as a scientist to her research advisor.

“Dr. Lai introduced me to the biosensor field which has taught me more than I could have hoped for. She has always motivated me to be better and do better. Dr. Lai is always there to help, talk you through a difficulty, and celebrate exciting outcomes. She puts a lot of time and hard work into her students, and I really appreciated that.”

In addition to the research, the campus location in the heart of downtown Lincoln has really added to Arin’s graduate experience. Arin said having a campus in the epicenter of town has provided her with so many amazing choices for restaurants, culture, and community events that she has never been in want for something to do on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon.

“I can’t see myself anywhere else.”


  • 2014 PLU Member of the Year
  • 2015 publication of first scientific article