Before I started the CURF I thought that research was about getting things done fast. I would try to get my code to work, but I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think about the design of my system, or any of my system’s goals. Before the CURF, my approach was “I have an idea, so let’s get it working as fast as possible”. I would develop a model of a system and build the system. I didn’t think deeply about my design decisions.
Now I see things differently. Research is a time-consuming process that takes a lot of thought. I couldn’t do what I did with my previous projects with this project. I had to break things into pieces focusing on each component. For example, when I started building XPhoton, my instinct was to get the embedded device to load video frames in a secure memory region right away. I couldn’t have done that all at once, so I broke things down. First, I got image loading and image processing working on my laptop. Then I got it working on the embedded system board being used for my prototype. It’s very important to break things down because you can only measure one variable at once. You won’t know how X is affecting Y unless you remove all other conflicting variables. Breaking things down makes solving issues easier because you can narrow down the cause of a problem.
The resources that I found to be most helpful during research were modeling and talking to experts. It’s very important to create diagrams because they help you check your assumptions and think through your design. It’s also very important, to reach out to others during your research. During research you will hit many walls. There will be times when you need a solution, but you can’t really think of one. During my research, I had to ask my mentors a lot of questions, and I had to talk to software engineers on IRC and GitHub. I learned so much from all of them, and I also got ideas that helped me come up with good solutions. Talking to experts is easy because you have the internet as a tool. You can connect with experts very easily.
The most valuable thing about the CURF is that you get to conduct your own research with mentors. It’s the freedom of conducting your own research that makes it fun. During my time working on XPhoton, I didn’t feel like I was working at all. It felt more like a fun hobby than a 9 to 5 job. When I was younger, I always made projects for fun, but I never had anything like a mentor. Now that I do I can learn much faster than before. Seeing myself improve really makes me happy.
If you want to become a good researcher or engineer, you really need a lot of hands-on experience. Classes are fine, but you will learn so much faster when you work on real world projects with experts. By doing this your skills will improve, and you will be worth more in industry and you will be a better researcher. That’s why things like internships and research experience are so important because it’s in environments like these where you really grow, but not just as a researcher but as a person.
Now that the CURF is over I plan to keep working on my project. During the CURF, I made a lot of progress with XPhoton, but there are still a lot of things that I want to do. The CURF is what got me started, but now it’s time to move forward. I’m glad that I had this opportunity it really opened the door for me and got me in to research.