A New Research Experience as a Freshman Mechanical Engineer

I have been asked how I got into research so early in my undergraduate career, so I’ll break it down.

Summer 2015: The Summer Institute of Mathematics and Science

The summer before my Freshman year I got an email inviting me to apply to the Summer Institute of Mathematics and science (SIMS). I didn’t know it when I applied, but SIMS was a two week intensive program that introduced research and introductory classes in a condensed and fast-paced way. These short few weeks was my first research experience. Working with Ryan Need and other SIMS students, I melted together iron and germanium to make crystals that have a square shape in their lattice structure. These exhibit a phenomenon called skirmions, which may one day lead to a more efficient way of storing data. What does any of that mean and how do you communicate it in a way that other people can understand? Welcome to research.

Fall 2016: Finding Another Opportunity for Research

I knew after SIMS that I wanted to continue down the research path, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. I went to a couple of seminars that had been advertised, and learned a bit about what research others were doing. I found a couple of projects that I was interested in and emailed the professors. Unfortunately I did not have the experience that they were looking for (understandably). After some other attempts, I emailed Sumita Pennathur essentially asking if I could sit in a corner of lab to observe. She kindly replied that I could attend the weekly group meetings. Yay, I got an in! And after the first few minutes of the first meeting I attended, where one of the lab members presented on their research, I realized that I knew very little as a freshman. All the more reason to pay attention and learn what I could.

Winter 2015-Summer 2016: Gorman Scholar Internship

In winter quarter, the SIMS alumni were recommended to apply to the EUREKA! program, which rewards a stipend to students during 8 weeks of research–in a lab of your choice–over the summer. What a great deal! I applied and got in, actually as a Gorman Scholar, which is a similar program that differs a little when it comes to funding. I emailed my acceptance to Sumita and she was happy to make me an offical part of the lab. So here I am now, a Gorman Scholar Intern, working in Sumita Pennathur’s lab, with Mike Garcia as my graduate student mentor.

The morale of the story is keep trying. Keep emailing professors and graduate students and go to showcases and seminars. Put yourself out there and grow out of your comfort zone. Keep persevering and you’ll make it.