Once again we find ourselves at the dawn of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) season. I have taken on at least two more students than I had hoped to, as one does. It's a surprisingly challenging task to take multiple students of varying degrees of ability in the lab and put them all in a position to do enough science to not be embarrassed by their poster at the end of the summer. Some work out well. Some.... less well.
But the influx of new people and wide-eyed n00bism every summer is always a net win. First, it gives the grad students practice at both mentoring and clearly explaining their rationale for what they are doing. Also, it puts them in a position to supervise the construction of a poster. Second, it's an opportunity to have students work on a small project that we haven't had time to get to, but is potentially interesting. And finally, it is excellent training and recruiting to retain some of these students either during the academic year or after they graduate from other universities. Some of my most successful undergraduate researchers have started as summer students and just kept the ball rolling.
Almost every STEM academic I have ever spoken to points to undergraduate research as the catalyst for their career. Hell, a lot of people in scientific fields also point to undergraduate research as the time they knew being in the lab was not for them and they chose something else. That's great too. The earlier you figure that out, the better. But if you're an undergraduate and think you might be interested in research, get in the lab! Summer, academic year, whatever. Do it for pay or for credit (I don't support volunteer lab work), but see what it's all about.