CRA-E’s “Undergraduate Research Highlights” series showcases outstanding research done by undergraduate students at universities and colleges across North America.  It is one of a number of CRA-E’s activities that foster and recognize  talented computing researchers with the goal of increasing the research pipeline, promoting graduate education, and advocating research-based careers.

Each article features the story of a successful undergraduate researcher and offers personal insights into their experiences with finding an advisor, undertaking new research projects, and discovering how research can impact their personal and professional futures. In addition to helping students understand the process of getting involved in research, the articles also serve as a venue for students to pass along advice to others who aspire to become involved in research themselves. Students selected for the research highlights include those receiving recognition in the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award competition.

This series is written and edited by CRA-E Graduate Fellows.


SiddharthSiddharth

A Perfect Balance of Two Distinct Passions


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.

Kalina PetrovaKalina Petrova

Programming and Paradigms, a Lifelong Pursuit of Research


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.

Nathaniel YazdaniNathaniel Yazdani

From Internet Searches to International Conferences


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.

Vinyas HarishVinyas Harish

Engineering Labs and Operating Rooms


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.

Louis JenkinsLouis Jenkins

Coincidence, Concurrence, and Careers


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.