In academia, research often leads individuals to conferences. For Nathaniel Yazdani, it was a conference that lead him to research. In the summer before transferring to the University of Washington from a local community college, Nathaniel had just learned his first functional programming language. Curious as to why someone would design “such a strange language,” he began investigating the world of programming languages online. Interested to learn more, he applied and was awarded funding from the ACM Programming Languages Mentoring Workshop to attend the International Conference on Functional Programming that summer. In what he described as a welcoming community, Nathaniel used the opportunity to learn more about programming language research, continually engaging with other attendees and student volunteers. Becoming eager to give research a try for himself, reached out again to the conference’s keynote speaker, Dr. Ras Bodik, who happened to be also be moving to the University of Washington that fall. They connected after his talk, and by the start of classes, Dr. Bodik had agreed to become Nathaniel’s research advisor.
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The field of medicine prides itself on being evidence-based, but where does that evidence come from? With aspirations for a career in medicine, this was one of the questions that fascinated Vinyas Harish, which would eventually lead him on a path from the engineering lab to the operating room. Although Vinyas’s research career began as an undergraduate at Queen’s University, his interest in understanding how science and engineering could be applied to medicine began much earlier. As a high school student, Vinyas attended a research open house where he met Dr. Gabor Fichtinger, whose students were demonstrating an open-source system for ultrasound-guided lumbar puncture. He recalls that after seeing what the realm of transitional clinical engineering was like, he knew he had to get involved. Upon enrolling as an undergraduate at Queen’s, Vinyas joined Dr. Fichtinger in the Laboratory for Percutaneous Surgery (PERK), where he would work during the summers after his first three years and the academic terms over his junior and senior year.
Planning for the summer after his sophomore year, Louis Jenkins had focused his efforts on securing an industry internship. However, in what he describes as “sheer coincidence,” Louis was forwarded a departmental email that would alter not only his summer plans, but his overall career trajectory. The email highlighted the NSF summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, and with recommendations from both a professor and the Computer Science Department Chair, Louis was selected as one of 14 students from the PASSHE region (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education). Louis chose the REU at Lehigh University under Dr. Michael Spear because of their shared interest in parallel computing, but he recalls that it was Dr. Spear’s mention that the problem they were trying to solve “might not even be possible” that sparked his interest and passion.
Originally a pre-med student at Loyola University, Laurynas Kalesinskas had envisioned his undergraduate degree as a stepping-stone to attend medical school. An interest in research and a passion to create change in healthcare led him to computational research. Fascinated by the projects he worked on, Laurynas shifted his focus. Graduating with a Bioinformatics and Biology double major and minors in Computer Science and Biostatistics, he decided to apply to Ph.D. programs, and he is currently a first year Ph.D. student in Biomedical Informatics at Stanford University.
Yisu Remy Wang was sophomore at Tufts University when he enrolled in Professor Kathleen Fisher’s programming languages course. In that course, Professor Fisher exposed students to some areas of current research which sparked Yisu’s interest and curiosity. Yisu spoke with Professor Fisher and she agreed to act as his research advisor. This was the beginning of a mentoring relationship that shaped much of the rest of Yisu’s time at Tufts and has had a lasting positive impact.
Christopher Mackie had an unusual entry into computer science. As high school student in Vancouver, Washington, he participated in the Running Start Program, which allowed him to obtain a 2-year associate degree in computer science at a local college while finishing his last two years of high school. He then enrolled in the BS/MS program in computer science at the University of Washington (UW). Although Christopher came to college with a substantial amount of computing background, he was mindful that he had not yet had the opportunity to work on a long-term open-ended problem.
June Chen’s passion for learning was abundantly evident when she arrived as an undergraduate at Rice University. She pursued a triple major in electrical engineering (BSEE), mathematics (BA), and medieval and early modern studies (BA), and she sought additional opportunities to learn outside of her coursework.
Alex Ozdemir is intensely curious about understanding how things work. Perhaps this curiosity is what drove him to pursue a self-designed major in “Computational, Mathematical, and Physical Theory” at Harvey Mudd College. After completing two summer internships in industry, Alex decided to try research. He began seeking research opportunities around campus. He remembered enjoying the algorithms that he’d studied in an introductory Computational Biology class, so he reached out to the professor, Dr. Ran Libeskind-Hadas, who happily agreed to supervise Alex on a research project.
Growing up in Silicon Valley, Lillian Tsai had always assumed that a normal career path for a computer scientist involved working at a company or, perhaps, launching a start-up. That was the path that she imagined for herself when she enrolled at Harvard University and chose to major in computer science.
While Gloria Kim’s interest in computing started in the classroom, her curiosity in deeper questions and desire to learn quickly took her outside of any curriculum. While taking an Introduction to Parallel Programming course with Prof. Vivek Sarkar at Rice University, Gloria found the topics led her to questions that fell outside the scope of the class. Rather than leave those questions unanswered, Gloria decided to take the initiative, asking Prof. Sarkar to join his lab as an undergraduate researcher in the summer following her sophomore year. In her research outside of the classroom, Gloria says she found even more enjoyment in learning for learning’s sake. “The entire process is driven by curiosity – question after question, as opposed to the contents of a syllabus.”