My CURF: Becoming a Researcher

According to a 2021 report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Earth’s average surface temperature has reached its highest level in 125,000 years. Furthermore, many geologists believe that we have now transitioned from the Holocene (the roughly 12,000-year geological epoch which allowed sedentary human societies to develop and flourish in the first place) into the Anthropocene – literally meaning, “the age of humans.”

Given this existential threat that global warming poses to the human species, I leapt at the opportunity to help mitigate the crisis after taking Dr. Xiaowei Jia’s CS 1656 Introduction to Data Science. Dr. Jia is currently conducting research on how to use machine learning models to more effectively and efficiently predict climate conditions; considering the ineffable importance of such an endeavor, I was eager to use my computer science skills to contribute, which led to the formation of my research relationship with Dr. Jia.

If you want to get involved in research yourself but aren’t sure where to start, following the path that I did and asking a current (or past) professor if you could get involved in their research is certainly a viable option. Alternatively, the First Experiences in Research (FE-R) program is an excellent way for underclassmen to get their feet wet in research, while the similar First Approaches to Research (FA-R) seminar is valuable for learning how to approach research and reach out to faculty members that you might be interested in working with.

Conducting research is valuable for a myriad of reasons, from simply boosting your resume to training to become a fully-fledged scientist of your own. As someone who hopes to become a university professor one day, gaining experience with the scientific process is essentially a necessity for me. Additionally, as a double-major in computer science and psychology who has conducted research within both disciplines, this specific project has also given me a stronger sense of which of the two fields I want to focus more on in my career.

Ultimately, however, keep in mind that research projects and positions are not just going to come to you; you have to go out and get them. Take advantage of school and departmental resources; for example, the School of Computing and Information (SCI) holds an undergraduate research seminar every semester to introduce students to the types of research that faculty members are conducting, while the psychology and economics departments send out regular newsletters with details about research opportunities for students.

Above all, don’t be afraid to take a chance and try to get involved in a research project to which you have no existing connections, but sounds intriguing to you. Many of the most important discoveries in science come about completely by accident, where someone might have been testing a specific hypothesis only to notice something unusual or unexpected about something completely unrelated. As such, I think Steve Jobs’ famous mantra is paramount here: “stay hungry, stay foolish.”

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