The AIM Experience

I remember the first day of the internship: as I walked into Professor John Bower’s lab for the laser safety training, I wondered when I’d get to run all of the advanced machinery and lasers I had heard about.

It began with reading journals, books, and scientific papers for about a week or two. Coming in around 10 AM, reading till 4 PM, and then heading home each day. As I began reading the papers, I realized how complex the level of the material was compared to what we learned in classroom lectures and acknowledged the fact that I needed to be able to understand the equipment I would be spending the summer working with. MMI’s… Couplers… PDK’s… These words were all foreign to me. Though the reading seemed long and tedious, it helped build an understanding of how to read and interpret such a different style of writing.

Once I finally got into the lab, I learned about some of the various different applications of light and optics in a lab setting. From developing and implementing an algorithm in order to control automated test setup to determining measurements in epitaxially grown quantum dot lasers, I gained knowledge and hands on experience that I would never have been able to receive from only a classroom lecture environment.

Now nearing the end of my AIM Photonics summer internship experience, I can say with a 100% guarantee that I was able to establish successful results in a professional laboratory setting by interacting and working proficiently with my colleagues and mentor. The weekly activities organized through the program really emphasized the key aspects of what goes into research outside of the traditional laboratory setting. Gaining so much advice about graduate school from older students and making connections with various professors and mentors were just the beginning of the kind of valuable information I obtained from this program. I would definitely recommend this program to all physics and engineering undergraduate students regardless of their career and academic paths. One thing I would definitely not give up on is being deeply involved in the future of photonics by developing new techniques and set-ups using optical fibers.

It was truly an amazing and unique experience to feel that I was contributing to such an important field, and I value the chance I was given to be a part of something bigger. This opportunity has opened a doorway for me to the research life, and all I can say is give it your all because whether or not you find a career in research, the experience will broaden your mind and uncover a whole new spectrum of engineering that you may never even have thought existed.

Researching Independently

The biggest piece of advice I would give to anyone about to get into research is to be prepared to work independently. This was a personal takeaway from the graduate student panel that spoke to interns a few weeks ago. Panelists said a difficult part of transitioning to graduate school was learning to operate with minimal levels of supervision and direct instruction. There’s more expectation to create your own research ideas and experiments, while being able to figure out how to make them all come to fruition. Interns aren’t necessarily expected to operate at this level of independence, but I would say that an undergraduate research experience is the best time to prepare.

This past week has given me a taste of what it’s like to work independently. My mentor was at a conference on the other side of the country to present his research. At first, I was concerned, unsure of what I would do if I faced a major road block. Although I was already accustomed to spending most of my time working alone, not being able to meet face to face at all seemed like it would be a major limitation. This prompted me to plan out the week meticulously, so I could still be as productive as possible.

I started off my week by beginning to write a report on my project in journal format. To begin such a task, I read up on relevant theory through a photonics textbook and other contemporary journal articles. This extra reading allowed me to generate informative figures and summarize the background behind my project. Being able to explain something through writing greatly enhanced my understanding of the topic. I then spent the next few days in the laboratory, both taking measurements, and watching others to see how they handled problems. Finally, when my mentor returned on Friday, we had perhaps our most insightful meeting so far. The extensive preparation I had done on my own, such as reading theory, writing the journal, and troubleshooting problems in the lab helped me make the most of the meeting. We discussed everything I learned, the problems I encountered, and what the remaining weeks of the internship would look like. I now feel that I’ve fine tuned my research work flow and I’m ready to finish the internship strong.

After AIM

With the program quickly approaching its end, there seems to be lots of loose ends to tie up. Between finishing projects, creating posters and slides for presentations, and preparing various other media to show that we have been learning this summer, the interns at AIM have been very busy lately. Yet as much as everyone seems to be feeling an increasing weight on his or her shoulders, everyone seems to be having more fun after having adjusted to the program. What used to be awkward silence in the moments leading up to presentations has turned into lively conversation and laughter between friends.

Personally, this has been a very fun and rewarding summer for me. One of the oddest things about summer in Isla Vista to me is the fact that many of my friends are home, so I become closer friends with people I would have called acquaintances before. There are even interns within AIM that I have seen around and held small talk with, but are now people I hang out with outside of our work.

I am very grateful for having been given this opportunity to learn about photonics and meet some very good people, but also to learn about research in general. AIM has cemented my decision to continue with research in the future, yet the topic is something I am still unclear of. Ideally, I would like to research something novel rather than an improvement over another technology, but I still have too many broad interests to narrow it down to one subject. With the experience I have received through working with my mentor and through the CSEP program, I feel that I am prepared to tackle the challenges that will be thrown at me during my career.

Perks of AIM

One of the great perks of this program is the weekly career development seminars and skills workshops. My personal favorites were the seminars by Professor Schow and Professor Valentine as well as the graduate school panel.

It was very interesting to hear about about Professor Schow’s experience in industry as a researcher versus in an academic institution, as well as how he ended up choosing between schools and different careers. And even though I didn’t understand all of the presentation, Professor Schow gave a great overview of his field and research. For Professor Valentine’s talk, I really enjoyed her emphasis on how random and nonlinear the future could be. She stressed the importance of creating opportunities and asking questions. Overall, it was pretty encouraging to hear that professors too had times in their lives where they weren’t sure or couldn’t choose, especially as I approach the end of my undergraduate education.

The graduate school panel was super helpful in that I got a better sense of what graduate school life is like and there was a ton of great advice. The panel emphasized the importance of flexibility and time management. In addition, they stressed the importance of choosing a good advisor and a healthy lab environment. Being able to ask 6 STEM students about graduate school was a very helpful and eye opening experience!

Overall, my favorite part about all these seminars and panels is learning about the many different ways people ended up at UCSB. Although it’s obvious, it’s always reassuring to remember that there are so many ways to go about one’s career. These seminars and panels also serve as a great reminder that life does not happen 100% according to plan or formula; there are failures and huge moments of uncertainty, along with great opportunities to learn and meet wonderful people.

AIMing High

Earlier this year, I was looking for research opportunities in the engineering field. After multiple hours of mindlessly searching the internet, I finally came across the “AIM Photonics Undergraduate Research Internship” page and very quickly became interested. I thought it was a brilliant program that recruited undergraduate students to work in the labs with graduate students while gaining research experience. I pulled up the application and realized that it was due that day! I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity go so I quickly started writing my personal statement and sent two of my most influential professors an email requesting a letter of recommendation. I submitted my application at 11:45PM that night. I think th2at the time spent on this application was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made

So far, my research has consisted of reviewing material from modern and optical physics and practicing optical fiber alignment with tunable lasers as well as measuring resistance of photonic chips. I have collected the data and created an IV Graph as well as a spreadsheet with the resistance measurements. I am going to present my results this week to my mentor and faculty advisor. This will be a great chance for me to practice my oral communication skills for my future career as an engineer when I am expected to tell people about my research.

In the second half of my research experience, I hope to learn more lab techniques as well as the work that is going into the field of photonics. My mentor shared with me that this field is still somewhat in the beginning stages and that once enough research is done, it will change the way the world communicates for the better. It will be much faster and way more energy efficient than the current state of communication and let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that?