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.
With his first step into research in the form of a dissertation project, Eric’s involvement blossomed into other research activities. Eric worked extensively in the Interaction Lab with Professor Maja Mataric and others on issues regarding embodied social robots. For instance, robots use their body to heighten their speech-based interactions, Eric’s goal was to develop efficient and scalable methods to automatically generate a subset of these gestures. Further, Eric’s focus also looked into robot designs and their effectiveness in different tasks.
Eric’s work has resulted in seven publications in peer-reviewed venues. This includes a paper in the 2018 ACM Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, a short film submitted to the Autism Film festival that centered around creating assistive robots for children with autism https://vimeo.com/210820130, and an embodiment design framework for discussing and evaluating the design of embodied artificial agents.
Seeking out undergraduate research experiences can be quite daunting to many students. Eric gives three pieces of advice to those looking to jump into research. First, be open and fearless when reaching out to potential professors. Second, stick with the full project if possible to really gain the true experience, otherwise, this may not be an accurate account of research. And lastly, research is flexible, find reasonable experiences and learn from them; one can always pivot toward a more relevant project.
Eric embodies the qualities of a successful researcher leveraging his past experiences as ones that shape his present. Eric is currently a Product Manager at Uber Advanced Technologies Group, previously a Robotics Engineer at Facebook. He graduated from USC with his B.S. in Electrical Engineering and is currently on leave from pursuing an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering.
– Written and edited by Robert Bowen and Joslenne Pena