Getting Involved with Research: At-Home Edition

When I decided to stay home this year, I automatically assumed it would mean saying goodbye to some of the incredible opportunities on campus. It turned out that this was not the case at all! I had more time to get involved with RSOs virtually, stay connected with friends and classmates, and I landed my very first research opportunity! When you imagine research, the first image that comes to mind is probably of people conducting experiments in a lab; it might sound a bit strange to think about how this could be done remotely. So, I thought I’d share a little bit about what my virtual research experience was like and some tips for how you can look for opportunities to get involved as a virtual student!

What was my experience like?

I found my remote research opportunity through the Promoting Undergraduate Research in Engineering (PURE) program. The PURE program pairs freshmen and sophomore engineering students with graduate mentors. This gives undergraduate students the opportunity to gain research experience early on in college and learn more about the research process. Within this program, I had the opportunity to work with a PhD student in the water resources department on a project in visualizing and modeling meandering rivers.

I’ll pause here to let you in on a little secret that I learned about research this semester: it’s not as complicated as it sounds. To get started in research, all you really need is a willingness to learn. Having a foundation in the basics is important, but you’ll pick up a lot of the technical skills and knowledge as you go along. We’re all constantly learning, and that’s the secret.

Armed with nothing but my knowledge from a few basic math and science courses, I took on the daunting world of computational fluid dynamics, and I learned a lot throughout the semester. I picked up a ton of programming skills, learned how to read super-intimidating scientific papers, and how to communicate my findings. At the end of the semester, there was an online research symposium for all the students in the PURE program to present their research to a panel of judges. Overall, this was a great opportunity to learn more about research and get some valuable experience, especially in a virtual semester. 

How to get involved

Even in a virtual world, there are still many opportunities to get involved – you just have to know where to look. Here are some of the tips I’ve found most helpful for finding ways to get involved in a virtual setting.

Your email inbox is your superpower. If your department sends out a newsletter, it’s likely that research opportunities will be listed in those emails. If not, your department website should be able to guide you in the right direction. You’ll also get emails from other offices and programs, such as the Office of Undergraduate Research. It’s easy to just skim over these emails or ignore them entirely, but if you’re looking for opportunities, your inbox is usually a great place to start.

Build your network and make connections. Often the best way to find new opportunities is by talking to others and learning more about their experiences. Your classmates, professors, and advisors are some of the best resources out there; getting to know them can lead to great conversations and open the door to new opportunities.

If something interests you, then apply! It’s easy to second guess yourself or to feel like you’re not good enough, but remember that you’re a much harsher critic of yourself than the person reading your application is. There’s no harm in applying, and you might just find yourself with an amazing new opportunity as a result!

Abby

Abby

Class of 2023
I'm a Civil and Environmental Engineering major in the Grainger College of Engineering, and I hope to one day work to lessen society's impact on the environment. I am a major nerd, have a passion for all things outdoors, and love exploring all the different opportunities that the University of Illinois has to offer!

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