A day in the life of college student

Nitin is attending junior year of his undergraduate at Cluster Innovation Centre, University of Delhi. His major is Information Technology & Mathematical Innovations. His research interests involve high performance computing & computer vision. Nitin shall be working with Dalhousie University, Canada for the summer of 2015. He has previously interned with IIT Bombay, Defence R & D Organisation, India. Nitin is excited about travelling to places and exploring the world.

Lot of undergrads aim for MS and PhD programs post their undergrad programs. While most of the top grad schools require exceptional research aptitude and proven experience in a specified arena, it might get difficult even for meritorious grads to secure a position at a reasonably good grad school in the area of their interest. Moreover targeting a right grad school is of critical importance since the same determines the working environment and hence caters to a quality research experience for developing an optimal research perspective.
A prior research experience at an undergraduate level not only ensures a holistic experience but allows oneself to develop an insight into the intricacies of research. It allows oneself to pivot through the process of problem formulation, literature survey, hypothesis, implementation (aka frustration) and revised implementation (more frustration!!) till one is in a position to accept or reject the hypothesis (the fun part). The patience, frustration and fun combo makes it all the more interesting an experience. The very comprehension developed in this process can in turn alleviate or concretize one’s experience in their chosen career and can hence save oneself from choosing an unsuitable career option.
Undertaking a research oriented task could be both a hectic and an interesting experience. What’s important is to the find a suitable subfield in the area of their interest, developing or taking up a research problem which interests oneself and looking for a mentor who would be interested to guide you across your chosen project.
I would suggest freshmen to work on possible areas of their research interest and be on a lookout for research internship openings in the respective areas throughout the very first year of their undergraduate program. It’s a reasonable idea to work on more than one projects for the very first fall break of their undergraduate program since this allows oneself to experience multiple areas of interest with multiple mentors. This ensures quality exposure to different fields and experts. However care should be taken to formulate the work plan in such a manner that there’s no conflict of interest among different projects in terms of commitment and requirement. Moreover if in case one takes up multiple projects, the same should be discussed with the concerned mentors beforehand and an advice may be taken with reference to hours of commitment required.
One must have a been able to finalize the mentor(s) and the project(s) before they end up going for their fall break which they can then utilize for taking up the aggressive portion of their project which shall largely involve understanding the research statement, learning major tools which may be required for undertaking the particular project and setting up a rapport with the mentor. Fall break is the time wherein a full time commitment could be made to the posed research problem and one involve herself into the research problem. This understanding can then be used for undertaking and continuing the project post the fall break when they get back in to their academic session.
The second fall break could be used to continue the project from the previous academic term or else a new project proposal may be developed. By this time one should have finalized their specific area of interest should therefore refrain from undertaking multiple projects at this time. Rather one should undertake a focused research in a specified arena. The expertise developed at this point in time helps oneself to undertake a highly focused and quality research internship during the third fall break with the experts in that particular field.
On a concluding remark one should try and work at different institutions across different locations and countries while undertaking these internships as far as possible allowing one to experience diverse research cultures and methodologies. Also, one must undertake the task of archival of their research outcomes in case the same are encouraging by sending them to peer-reviewed conferences and journals for others to review their work and suggest optimization strategies. The recipe thus explained in this article can probably ensure an optimal research experience which not only helps in developing a research aptitude but also allows oneself to signal their strengths to a grad school of one’s interest.

Best
Nitin Agrawal

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