Being a Hispanic woman in a STEM field presents different obstacles for many young women. At times, this means inability to find belonging, purpose, or passion in a discipline. In particular, this rings true within the bouts of undergraduate research. Sheila has broken down those barriers by diving in head first into an array of research activities. Sheila leveraged a positive meeting with two graduate students who were excited about their research in physics, which resulted in her exploration of research opportunities in computer science. Oftentimes, positive role models or helpful examples can trigger one’s shift into new pursuits.
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Many graduate students do not have extensive undergraduate research experience and undergraduate students may find it difficult to identify research opportunities. Yet Eric found a welcoming community of researchers at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering. He recalls: “We [Faculty] worked together to select future research topics that I wanted to explore, including embodiment design in interactive robots, adaptive models for attention acquisition, and embodied gestures.” These opportunities are not very common among undergraduates at other schools and institutions, but Eric has taken advantage and began to develop his research profile.
As a first-generation, Latino college student, Andy Rosales-Elias defies the standard image of a computer science researcher. At a two-week science and math program preceding his first year at UC Santa Barbara, Andy recalls: “I remember one night hearing a cohort member talking on the phone to his parent, who was a professor at another university, about his research problem, and I couldn’t help but think that I was somehow inferior and had a huge disadvantage in terms of pre-existing knowledge and resources.”
As a high school student, Jalex attended the Canada/USA Mathcamp, a program where mathematicians teach five weeks of math classes to high school students. After the Mathcamp, Jalex was convinced to pursue research in mathematical logic, taking graduate courses in model theory and set theory upon arrival as a first-year student at Caltech.
Xuan Huang graduated from Bryn Mawr College with an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, and is currently a PhD student at the University of Utah studying Computer Graphics. A summer research internship influenced her decision to attend graduate school.
Being a curious high school student, Siddharth was part of the Robotics Team at Gunn High School, which compelled him to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley. However, after getting introduced to Natural Language Processing, and being an avid reader, Sidd realized that he wanted to pursue both his interests – Computer Science and Literature together, and transferred to Brown University soon after his freshman year. Sidd is currently a senior at Brown, dual-concentrating in both Computer Science and the Literary Arts.
Computing has been a part of Kalina Petrova’s life since she first took part in a 5th grade extra-curricular programming class. Fascinated by the process of solving computational problems, Kalina had immersed herself in research by the time she reached high school, presenting research projects at national conferences around her home country of Bulgaria. She also participated in the Research Science Institute, a 6-week research program for high school students at MIT, working on a computational neuroscience project.
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.
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.