SciTech

First-year research opportunities plentiful for interested and driven students

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor

As the school year starts again, one ubiquitous line exists in the conversation among students: “What did you do over the summer?” This past summer, 12 rising sophomores
coming from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT), School of Computer Science
(SCS), and Mellon College of Science (MCS) gathered together in Mellon Institute
Room 357 for a 10-week research program — the Summer Research Institute (SRI).

At Carnegie Mellon, students with sufficient knowledge and passion in their fields are able to participate in some sort of research during the school year or summer. Programs like SRI, intended for those students who have finished their first year at college, show that this passion applies to even those students who have just begun their journey through college.
Maggie Braun, the assistant department head for Undergraduate Affairs in the department
of biological sciences, is one of many professors who strongly encourage undergraduate
students to participate in research. “In MCS, roughly 80 percent of the students
have had research experiences sometime in their four years here at Carnegie Mellon,”
Braun said.

Undergraduate research offers numerous benefits in one’s professional development.
Students have improved their “problem solving skills, analytic skills, oral communication
skills, and scientific writing skills” by doing research, Braun said. Anna Romanova, a sophomore biological sciences major and a participant in SRI 2009, said, “After SRI, I strengthened a lot in not only my hands-on laboratory skills, but also my critical thinking skills throughout the entire troubleshooting process.”

“I learned through our mistakes, and the fact that not everything works the way you
expect it to be — that’s science,” stated Siping He, another SRI participant and sophomore
biological sciences major. At numerous schools around the country, research positions
could be hard to obtain for undergraduate students. However, at Carnegie Mellon,
the door to world-class research is wide open for students who are passionate and diligent
on all levels. Students can take advantage of the opportunity and get a head start on what
they are interested in.

Besides MCS, other schools at Carnegie Mellon also offer laboratory research for
their students. For instance, Kendra Garwin, a sophomore computer science major, is another
student who spent her summer doing research as a rising sophomore. Her research
is focused on verifying safety in hybrid systems, especially in traffic control. After this
summer, she claimed, “I’ve learned how to be more assertive in getting help and direction.
In addition, I’ve also learned a lot about the topic of research itself through hands-on experience. This is a time when I think I gained more experience-based knowledge than
book-based knowledge.”

With much said about the benefits and availability of undergraduate research here
at Carnegie Mellon, how can a student actually receive a research position? The first step
is to prepare a résumé and a cover letter. Most programs or professors would want to see a
student’s performance, achievement, and expression of interest through those two things.

In addition, as Garwin said, “Pay attention to any e-mails you get about internship opportunities, and send your résumé and cover letter to anyone and everyone you’re even remotely interested in working with.” TartanTrak is one of the most commonly used resources for jobs, internships, and research opportunities. Students can contact recruiters and send
their résumés through this system.

Even though there are plenty of chances, with many brilliant minds at Carnegie Mellon,
competition can sometimes be fierce. “Some of the components of a strong candidate
are a strong expression of interest and grades that reflect a good understanding of
the knowledge, although a 4.0 is definitely unnecessary,” Braun said. “We really love to
see students who articulate how the research experience is going to affect their professional
development. They can even start at day one!”