July 24, 2015

National Conference for Undergraduate Research: A Student’s Research Opportunity

Hey folks, Keaton here again.

Last time I spoke (well typed, but you get the idea) about my time in the Frankenstein 2029 performance, so if you’re interested in that check it out.

This time I’m going to share my experience doing research here at Lafayette, and the research conference I attended this past spring.

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During the 2014-2015 school year I worked on research in the mechanical engineering department. A bit about myself: I’m interested in control systems and dynamics, especially in aerospace. (That’s about as specific as I’m going to get with that. You’re welcome.) So, during the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I approached one of my professors, who has a Ph.D. in aerospace, and asked him if he was doing any research that he wanted help with.

Now, so far this is pretty similar to how students get involved in research here at Lafayette. You figure out what you’re interested in, research professors in different departments to find out what they are interested in, and approach one with similar interests to yours and ask if they would like to work with you. This is basically how it worked out for me, except I got a response I wasn’t exactly expecting: “Sure, Keaton, what would you like to work on?”

What did I want to work on? Me? My opinion mattered? I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what professors do, ask the students what they want to do for THEIR research… As an undergraduate. It’s amazing. I got to talk to this professor about what I was interested in, and how his expertise in HIS field would be applicable to serve as an adviser for MY research.

Flash forward a bit. I decided upon a topic, we got funding, I got paid to work on this research (aww yeah!), and around October I got an email from an administrator in the college just mentioning that there was an opportunity to attend a research conference in the spring.

Now, turns out that this wasn’t just any research conference. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of academia and research (as I wasn’t), most conferences are specialized and focused on a specific field or topic. This was not the case with NCUR. The National Conference for Undergraduate Research focuses only on undergraduate research. Nearly every department or field of study you could imagine had at least one student presenting in that area. From Lafayette alone there were presentations in fields like engineering, international affairs, economics, biochemistry, and film and media. Definitely a large range.

For me, attending this conference sounded like a dream because I’m not just interested in engineering. I go to Lafayette because, sure it has a great engineering program, but also because I can study other topics that interest me. And that’s exactly what I explained as I applied to get funding from Lafayette to go all the way out to Washington State.

Well, I got the funding and I got accepted to the conference. Achievement get! I got to meet about a dozen or so other Lafayette students who were also attending NCUR in the weeks of April leading up to the conference. Some were presenting EXCEL research as I was, while others were presenting their honors theses, and using this as an opportunity to get more into the world of research before attending graduate school (as well as a bit of practice for their thesis defense).

The conference lasted two days, and I had all of the first day to explore before I had to give my presentation the second day. I got to check out some of the presentations by my Lafayette peers, look at posters from students from different schools in topics that interested me, and I even got to see a couple of short videos from different students. It was a great learning opportunity for me to see what was going on in the realm of research outside Lafayette, and I really enjoyed that.

The day of my presentation I got dressed up all fancy, grabbed my poster, and made my way to my section. For a couple of hours I was in a room full of other students presenting their work, and got to explain exactly what it was that I had been doing for the previous seven months. Most people had no idea what I had been doing, which was exciting because I got to explain what I was researching to people who were genuinely interested, but didn’t have a background in my field. Some people were very familiar with my process, and a couple actually used similar processes in their own research.

All in all it was an amazing experience, one that I believe was critical to my future. Before I attended this conference I always thought that I wanted to get a job coming out of college, but now I’ve shifted to think about graduate school. I’m even drafting a proposal for an honors research thesis for my senior year! Neither of these I had ever expected to be doing, but now am thanks to my experience at NCUR.

I know, you’re all thinking I’m being super cheesy in my conclusion… again. But it’s all true. I truly believe this is one of the more important experiences I’ve had at Lafayette, and that’s why I wanted to share it with you all.

If you want to check out my fancy section of the NCUR website and read my abstract, you can here.

Also, here’s an awkward picture of me pretending I’m not holding an acorn as I see the photographer try to take a candid photo of me.
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Keep checking back for more posts from myself and other student bloggers to see what is going on in our lives this summer here at Lafayette, and around the globe.

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