Undergrad Research Experience
Society for Promotion of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) is a brand new initiative of the General Secretary for Academic Affairs 2012 – 13. As SPUR’s first step, 29 students who have been awarded the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) were felicitated in the Students’ Gymkhana Award Ceremony held on 3rd April 2012. One of the awardees, G. Sreeta (3rd year Civil Engineering student) describes her URA experience.
The Undergraduate Research Award is an opportunity our institute offers to undergraduate students for earning research
exposure at the undergraduate level. The URA 01 is a non-credit project that can be undertaken before the fourth year, but which reflects on a student’s transcript.
Before I begin with the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of the procedure for applying for a URA, let me get one aspect straight- this is not a documentation of the procedure for a URA (you might try the academic brochure for that). This is an informal discussion on how I went about working for it.
I came to know about the URA opportunity only around the end of my 4th semester. The issue came up during a discussion with my Honors professor. Frankly speaking, I think I would have been better off starting off earlier, because the 4th semester is an ideal time for experimentation. Nevertheless, I began my hunt for information regarding the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of the proceedings with my pilgrimage to the Academic Office and came to know about the various formalities and requirements for the process. The entire process can be outlined into the following steps:
Find a Topic of your interest:
For this keep your eyes and ears open. One naive way to go about it is to visit the faculty page on the Department’s website. The research areas and interests of all the professors are mentioned there, but this can be a little vague. So, if something catches your eye, visit the professor’s personal webpage and see if the detailed description sustains your interest. If so, see what kinds of skills are required in that field and how well you can relate to the prescribed work. (Most research activities require good programming and mathematical skills) My current topic is – Mechanics of Cells and Differentiation. I came across this in my Honors class, when the professor spoke about the ‘larger’ scope of Civil Engineering. So, I followed the cue and went about to meet Professor Inamdar who specializes in this field.
Convince the professor:
I think this is the tricky and more difficult part. Professors can be quite reluctant to take students in owing to our poster image of ‘irresponsibility’. So, tell him why you find his work interesting, and what you can do in your capacity to contribute to his work. Tell the professor about your programming skills, your Minor course (if, that is of any relevance) and other courses and skills. My Physics Minor helped me in persuading my guide. Professors may give a little reading material to see how enthusiastic you actually are and this is where most of the students are sieved out. So, read that material and follow up with your professor on what you understood, your queries, etc.
Once the above two steps are done, you need to do a few formalities with the Academic Office. You need a hand-written application stating your work and your guide and this should be approved by your Guide, Faculty Advisor and DUGC (HoD). One important thing to note is that, if this application is submitted, then the PP/NP grade for the URA has to be submitted by your guide before the release of grades for the semester, otherwise your regular grades could be withheld. Also, if you have completed some project and think you have done significant work, you could ask your guide/Faculty Advisor to recommend you for a URA.
Regarding my project:
My project was based on modeling the mechanical interactions of cells using structural elements and coming up with a model that is consistent. I worked on this project during my 5th semester, at the end of which my professor found my work satisfactory and recommended me for a URA. This link will provide very good information and experience of others who have been awarded a URA: http://www.insightiitb.org/2011/ura-101-2/.
The number of working hours I have spent in this project wasn’t fixed. The biggest task at hand for me was to come up with a model. I spent unaccounted time in trial and error processes. The beginning was intense, but when I settled down with a project, my major work was coding and debugging (some days were lucky and some weren’t). The amount of time depends on the project and individual competence and varies over the stages of the project. My project did not involve lab work, but other projects might. I had immense pleasure working with my guide Prof. Mandar M. Inamdar. The field of work I undertook was of great interest to me and getting my URA 01 has been a very important learning and memorable experience!
Note: This article will feature in the upcoming issue of Civil Engineering Department’s magazine.