Before you do research

Not many students really think about researching as an undergraduate because graduate school is something of a mysterious land that they have yet to even imagine exploring. However, it’s something I have considered pursuing since matriculating into UCSB but the thought itself is very scary. That is why undergraduate research is a step in the right direction because it allows for you to experience a small portion of what could be if you do decide to head toward this direction. But before you start research, I want to talk about a misconception I had previously about research.

Not all research experiences are the same. I came in thinking that I would immediately be in the lab designing and testing circuits and working side by side with my mentor; instead, I had papers upon papers to read. The big mistake I made there was thinking that research was going to be easy. The material that doctoral students had to understand and digest cannot be understood in a few weeks by undergrads. The reality of the situation was that I needed a strong physics base knowledge in electromagnetic fields to start comprehending the design parameters of my project. But like I said before, not all research experiences are the same. There are research projects where the majority of the job is spent testing samples because the project is nearing completion or the bulk of the work lies in repetitive tasks. These usually require less technical knowledge but more lab skill. For example, a friend of mine was looking at plants under a microscope to sort them for a professor. The research value gained from that was mainly the networking and exposure to the lab atmosphere. Each experience is valuable in its own respect and you have to make the best of it.

Balance is your friend

Hi, I am a computer engineering major and I have no idea what to do and where I am going but that is okay. I think it is important, once in a while, to recognize that most of us do not know their future after graduation or even just a quarter. But this doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path or everything is going to crumble down. You just need to broaden your horizons and do things that you think are fun and interesting with people who are fun and interesting. Research and school organizations are a start but there are so much more. It is always good to keep moving forward and but pace yourself; the latter is especially important and I’ll tell you why.

For me, ‘moving forward’ is keeping myself busy with school and extracurricular activities. I have experienced so many summers and quarters without a purpose or relevant work to do unless you count delivering food for pocket money. I had already planned to pursue a five-year master’s program at UCSB but did not know whether I wanted to emphasize in computer science or electrical engineering. This summer was the summer for me to choose because I have research in photonics and an internship in web development as a sort of a sample plate for my academic career. Little did I know how much work it would entail as well as the level of commitment I signed up for. Every weekday of my schedule is filled with my internship in the morning and research in the afternoon. The balancing work is really important in situations like this so I organized my calendar accordingly but it is still hectic.

I find myself barely keeping up but this experience has not been filled with regrets. Even though there is a lot to handle, I enjoy both responsibilities but with much more care to each of them respectfully. I underestimated the level of commitment and work for both and paid for it dearly with my free time. The desire to accomplish a lot is good but the ability to understand your ambitions and gauge it with your capabilities is much more important if you plan on sleeping.