UCI Summer Research Symposium 2016

 

Cover of a booklet for the summer research symposium. Has images of students posing in a group and working together to finish an obstacle course.
Cover to the Summer Research Symposium program.

Today was the end of the summer research programs on the UCI campus. This summer I was a mentor to both an incoming PhD student in the Competitive Edge program and an undergraduate student in the SURF program. The summer ended with a wonderful research symposium where half the students presented their work via oral presentations and the other half presented posters. We then had an awards ceremony lunch where everyone was recognized for the great work they did this summer.

A woman giving a presentation at a podium. To her right is a slide projected with the title "Developing a user friendly system to 3D print minecraft creations for autistic children"
SURF Undergraduate, Aminah Tamimi, giving her presentation on 3d printing from Minecraft.
Woman stands next to a podium and a slide that says "Who watches the overwatchers?"
Competitive Edge PhD Student, Amanda Cullen, giving her presentation on Overwatch.

These programs are a really nice way to help students prepare for graduate school. As someone who participated in a similar program (DREU) as an undergrad and in the Competitive Edge program, I can attest to their usefulness.

As a mentor for students in these programs I am also extremely grateful to the programs for the opportunity to give back and be a mentor. As someone who is passionate about increasing diversity in academia and in STEM programs, I am always excited about chances to “do my bit.” In this instance, working with both Aminah and Amanda was a wonderful experience. Not only are they both hardworking students who are going to go great places, but they are generous with me as I felt my way through my role as a peer mentor. I plan on staying in touch with them (especially Amanda since we sit next to each other in lab) as they progress along their careers and continue to be helpful when I can.

A big thanks to everyone who made this summer fun and full of learning!

A flock of birds silhouette against a yellow-orange sky.

Competitive Edge 2013, Week 4 & 5- New XP

It has been five weeks since I started this Competitive Edge program and got a jump start on graduate school life. I will admit that it has had its ups and downs. However, I can safely say that I am doing something that actually inspires me to wake up in the morning and go into work every day. The only other time I felt this way was when I was doing my DREU project last summer at UMBC- my first taste of life as a researcher. I have definitely found something to be passionate about and if there are bumps along the way, they are well worth the effort to overcome them.

In the last two weeks, I have accomplished a lot and gained a lot of new experience points. I’ll just talk about some of my experiences so that you can get an idea of all the different things going on in my life at the moment.

Presentations. It’s the dreaded event that anyone doing research has to deal with. Being able to present effectively is important for disseminating findings from your work. During Week 4, I was asked to give a short presentation of my planned research project to the STAR Group. We have weekly meetings where people have a chance to get the group’s opinion on research ideas or project planning. I gave a short talk on my project that I had just started planning. I will be honest that my presentation style still needs work, but that’s why we practice. I was also very nervous because this was the first presentation I was giving as a graduate student to my peers (and advisor). I had extreme anxiety over being judge “not good enough”. Anytime I have tried something new this summer, I will admit that I have fears that people will realize that I got into grad school as a fluke and they’ll realize I really don’t belong here. I am told by many more senior grad students that this is a perfectly normal feeling and that it does not really ever go away. Awesome.

After the STAR Group presentation (where I did learn a little bit about how to deliver a more effective presentation and no one told me I shouldn’t be in grad school), I gave another presentation, this time to my fellow Competitive Edge students and mentors. I will be honest, I was not nearly as nervous about this presentation. Partly, I knew that this group wouldn’t be judging me as harshly (not that my STAR Group was judging me harshly, but it’s all perception…). And, partly, I had a little more experience to go off of.

I have at least one more presentation practice with Competitive Edge this summer and then I have to give my presentation at the Summer Research Symposium on August 15th. People ask me if I am nervous about it, but I have to honestly say “not really”. I know by the time I reach the 15th, I’ll be adequately prepared and there’s no use wasting energy being nervous now. Talk to me 20 minutes before I go on stage and you’ll get a much different answer.

IRB. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is put in place to protect those that are participating in human subjects research. I whole-heartedly believe it is a very important process to have in place for a number of reasons. However, when one is the researcher that has to get their project approved by IRB, it can be a fairly intensive process- especially for newbies like myself.

The perks of the process were that I got to put myself down as Lead Researcher (and consequently take all the responsibility for the paperwork that that title implies). Nothing boosts the self-confidence like seeing your name next to the title “Lead Researcher”. The process also helped me clarify exactly what I wanted to do step-by-step for the study. It was like writing out a detailed research plan, which I think would be really helpful for any project. It forced me to work with my advisor to clarify details I was unsure of and helped me focus my research questions.

The downside, of course, is that I spent five days filling in paperwork and creating all the required documents. It was extremely time consuming and exhausting. When it was finished, I felt like I should have been relieved to turn it in, but instead I just felt anxious about whether or not I did everything correctly. The other downside to the process, is that now I have to wait. I cannot recruit subjects or start my study until I receive approval, which could take several weeks. Luckily, I have plenty to do in the meantime!

Spending Other People’s Money. This probably sounds weird, but I am finding spending money that is not mine extremely unnerving. As part of the preparation process for my project, this last week I have had to start procuring all the equipment needed. I was fine with the idea of doing this, but when it came to that actual deed, I had a minor panic attack. I realize, I’m not your average bear and do have a tendency to react with stronger emotions than most. But it was something that happened, so I will still write about it. I had all sorts of guilt and questioned everything I bought. “Is this the right thing? Am I going to get in trouble?” Completely irrational. My solution is to either never require equipment again (unlikely, unfortunately) or to somehow deal with these irrational fears. Hopefully, with experience, it will get better. I guess I didn’t expect to be the one to actually do the buying. We needed a computer for the study, so I give my advisor the specs. She says “Ok, go down to the bookstore and get whatever you need…” It’s very intimidating when all the responsibility falls on your shoulders, I guess. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even opened the box for the computer yet because I am so scared I bought the wrong thing or did something wrong. Pretty crazy, I guess.

Allowing Myself Downtime. This is a super important point that I keep forgetting. It’s okay to work hard and push until something gets done (especially with deadlines involved), but I have to remember that it is equally okay to take time off. This weekend, for instance, with the exception of wanting to write this blog, I am not even thinking about work. And this blog is more therapeutic anyway.

Learning To Be Myself, Whoever That Is.  I am finding that I am not like a lot of the other students in my cohort. And that’s perfect alright. We get along during workshops and are quite friendly. But I am not the sort of person that goes to bars or clubs. I don’t feel a burning need to do things on the weekends. I am actually perfectly happy curling up at home with a good book or video game. And that’s okay. I am just in a different space than many of the other people I’ve come across. I guess I could categorize myself as “settling down” or more sort of family oriented. It was different at WSUV because a lot of people had families and lives outside of school. There wasn’t a lot of pressure to drink, party, or stay up late. I’m happy for people who want to do those things, I just don’t want to do them myself.

Large-Scale Multitasking. I have to juggle a lot of different tasks at once. I have my project (which has several balls in the air right now), Competitive Edge requirements (which don’t especially overlap with my project), networking inside my lab and outside, maintaining my household, and making sure Kyle remembers who I am. I am working on my research project which I am hoping will turn into a submission to a conference while simultaneously working on my NSF GRFP proposal (will give all the dirt on this in a separate blog post) and working on past research (my ASSETS poster was accepted, YAY!). I feel like there is a lot in the air and I’d better not let anything drop!

Stay Tuned! I’ll be keeping you posted on my research project progress and I am planning a blog entry dedicated to NSF GRFP. Until then, DON’T PANIC!

Competitive Edge 2013, Week 3- Figuring this Whole Grad School Thing Out

As I slowly settle into the area, a lot of exciting things are happening with my summer project. The biggest excitement being I actually picked a research project. I’ll give you a hint: it’s something to do with this cool system called SensoryPaint. Now comes the fun/hard part where I actually have to get all the work done!

This last week I visited the Autism Center that is affiliated with our school. I heard a great lecture on another project called MOSOCO. I met some fantastic folks and I’m slowly but surely getting oriented with my landscape.

I also went to a housewarming party out in Long Beach. I hadn’t been there (at least as far as I can remember) and it was cool to see a different area for a bit. I’ve been pretty limited in my range of movement here in Irvine. I have been spending most of my time between my apartment and the campus and haven’t explored much beyond that. I am feeling like this is okay though, because there is lots of time in the future for more exploration. I will admit though, there is a yarn shop about 10 minutes’ drive from my place that I am very tempted to go check out.

Now I will discuss my Week 3 takeaway message: Grad school is a very socially intensive environment. If you are anything like me and are used to just chilling in front of your computer getting your work done, minding your own business, then grad school is going to be a shock. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a little social with friends and outings. But I am not used to be “on” all the time. It’s very exhausting. Everyone you meet is potentially an important future resource or contact. As a brand new student, you feel the overwhelming need to impress everyone or at least try not to fall flat on your face where possible. So, on top of trying to figure out projects, apply to fellowships, learn a whole new town, there is the stress of being a happy, easy going personality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually enjoying the entire process. I actually don’t mind this kind of stress too much and I’m loving all my lab mates- they are awesome, helpful people (we even all go to the gym together). I feel really lucky in a lot of ways. But I do have to remember to allow myself downtime and “off” days where I can relax.

I just mention all this because I was not warned. I think that if I had someone giving me advice and information about grad school, I would have liked to know about this. It wouldn’t have deterred me, but I possibly could have been a little more prepared.

This coming week is going to be hard. I am planning out my summer project, working on the IRB form (more on that later), presenting my project to the group, and also planning a proposal for NSF GRFP for Competitive Edge. Even if I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed, I’m actually in a really happy place. I’m doing what I want to be doing and, more than anything else, I am feeling fortunate to be here.

Getting Started, Competitive Edge 2013

This summer I am participating in a program at the University of California, Irvine called Competitive Edge. The aims of the program are to give minority (and women) incoming graduate students a “competitive edge” on their Ph.D. programs.

After a successful drive from Washington down to southern California, we settled into our new home in campus housing adjacent to the UCI campus. One benefit of the Competitive Edge program is the early move in for the student housing. We had a couple days to acclimate before I started my program. This was spent mostly setting up house and trying to get used (mostly unsuccessfully thus far) to the heat.

A highway going through dry land.
Road to Irvine, CA.

The first day of the program was orientation, including a campus tour, luncheon, and a ropes course. Yes, a ropes course. Most of the folks back home would probably have a hard time imagining me up on a ropes course because, honestly, heights really aren’t my thing. But it happened. And I even did the zipline at the end.

Competitive Edge Students gathered near the ropes course.
Competitive Edge Students gathered near the ropes course.
Group of students at ropes course.
Competitive Edge Students after the ropes course.

Each week, the Competitive Edge will be holding workshops to help us make the most of our grad school experience. So far, I have attended workshops on Research Resources, various informational sessions on the types of fellowships available, a workshop on the Ford Foundation fellowship, and a session outlining the NSF GRFP. From here on out, the workshops get more specific into the application process. We will be getting feedback on our essays, proposals, CVs, and even on how we give presentations. At the end of the program, on August 15, we will each be giving a 10 minute presentation on our research at the Research Symposium. All in all, this program is definitely designed to make us much stronger graduate students.

The rest of the week I get time to do research in my own lab. I am a member of the Star Group in LUCI. I will be working on researching assistive technology for those with Autism. This past couple weeks, I have been doing background reading and getting settled in the lab. I will be working with a great group of people in my lab (everyone is really friendly and more than willing to collaborate) and I’m excited to really start working.