Mechanical Engineering Pre Grad Intern Arnav Chhabra
Before the beginning of my college career, I had vowed to never go into research. I was very monetarily driven in terms of job-hunting; hence I had chosen to go into corporate industry. Being a part of this exclusive IE Pre Grad Internship, however, made me realize how much research actually fascinates me. The most valuable thing I learned during the course of this internship was how important time management is. Time management, as was emphasized by both my mentor and graduate students in the lab, happens to be one of the most difficult and crucial facet of going to graduate school. Working in a lab, while taking 17 hours of classes, I saw the importance of this facet during my undergraduate career. I had a lot of questions before I came into this internship: How does funding work for professors? Do employers actually partially or fully pay to send you to graduate school? Is it worth getting an MBA after getting a Master's/PhD? There were also others that arose during the course of the internship itself: Is there such a thing as being over-qualified? In a global market like ours, how do 3 degrees from the same institution look to employers? I am glad to say that all of these questions, and much broader concerns, were answered for me this semester.
My semester started with the same project I had been working on for the entire summer. During the summer, my focus had been on automation of technology for this project. However, as the semester began, it seemed that my help was needed in other important parts of the research project as well: design of parts, optimization of designs, and, most importantly, experimentation. This transition into a much more appealing component of research motivated me to work even harder. Being a novice in the scholarly arena, I had a hard time sifting through publications. However, the realization that what I was researching was something totally unique and had never been considered by any individual up to that point never ceased to amaze me. In addition to gaining expertise in the technical area of research, I was also exposed to many other facets of graduate study through one of the seminars with faculty professors/graduate students set up by the IE consortium. The input/suggestions given by the professors answered a lot of questions I had about technicalities of applying to graduate school.
At first it felt like just another thing I have to attend, but the IE meetings soon became very important to me. I started taking immense interest in them and was part of some very intellectually stimulating conversations with some very motivated young researchers. Learning from the faculty mentor was just one part of this internship. Where I think I learned the most from was from graduate students. Students who had recently been in my position truly understood the dilemma I was going through: whether graduate school was the right choice for someone like me. According to the, this internship was the perfect opportunity for me figure out this dilemma. I spent hours watching graduate students perform experiments, experiments that were complicated and often failed. In fact, most of the experiments I administered or watched failed or did not give. But, as I have learned, learning from failure is very crucial during experimentation. If you can understand why certain adverse phenomena happen, you have the ability to simulate conditions in order to evade such situations.
Another important facet of research that I was exposed to was attending at a conference. Not only did I attend a conference, I had the opportunity to present my research at the American Physical Society: Division of Fluid Dynamics conference in Long Beach, CA. While I was there, I talked to so many people who loved what they were doing. These people motivated me even more to pursue research as a professional career. Realizing that no one had been working on the same research topic as me was very uplifting. I plan on continuing the same research topic next semester, and hoping to publish as soon the data collection process ends. However, a new experimental setup is needed which probably will kill a lot of time. Speaking of experimental setups, when it comes to Mechanical Engineers, building an optimized experimental setup is very crucial to the success of your experiment. I learned a lot about experimental setups, merely by observing graduate students working on them, and also through extensive literature review. I also built my own setup. It was not as elaborate as most of the graduate student ones I saw, but it was something I was proud of. I never knew I was good at putting optical components together until I actually did some hands-on work.
As I learned, voicing concerns and questioning anything you aren't sure of is also important in research. As undergraduate students, sometimes we are scared of voicing our concerns because of lack of confidence or because we are scared of embarrassment. Being an active researcher for about 6 months now, I can tell you that without questioning all your results and seeking hard to find these answers, your research will not go very far. It is very crucial that one understands his/her own results, because misinterpretation can lead to false experimental data.
The Intellectual Entrepreneurship consortium helped me decide whether graduate school was the right path for me. Before I entered this program, I was not sure of what I wanted to do. In fact, I was almost sure that graduate school was not the right path for me. Now it is clear to me that being a prestigious researcher is and will be the main academic focus of the rest of my life. Presenting at one of the most renowned conferences and being one of the youngest people there to do so created that confidence in me which will help through my entire academic life. In fact, for Masters' degree, I intend to continue my work in the field of Fluid Dynamics and eventually use my knowledge and apply it to biotechnology. Being a pioneer in Biotechnology is my main goal and Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium has helped me be on the right path for that end goal. I am glad I had the opportunity to partake in such a program where people help me decide my future plans. I would also like to thank Dr. Cherwitz, Dr. Darwin and the rest of the IE alumni for being a part of such a great program.