Civil Engineering Pre-Grad Intern Nhat Minh Ho
Intellectual Entrepreneurship Research Internship: Final Reflection
The IE Program gave me a very unique opportunity to have a closer look at the graduate research culture and examine my own capability to excel in such an environment. Not every test will yield a result but every test is vital to get there. Although I had my doubt before participating in the program since it had not been very common among my class, I knew it was essential in making the right decision for the next two years of my life. I would recommend it to anyone who truly desires to explore all possible paths in life.
The Internship brought me the opportunity to work one on one with my advisor and realized that there was much more to it than just punching numbers and writing papers. Dr. Wheat, my advisor, was my favorite professor though two fundamental engineering courses, though I came to his office hour all the time, he never felt I should take lots of his time to chat about my future. Fortunately for me, when I mentioned about the program and my interest in working with him since we shared a strong in math and mechanics of structure, he agreed right away. During the process, he was very generous with me about his time, allowing me hours to ask questions, connecting ideas. My task was to read a published paper that was believe to had an error, validate it's accuracy and came up with a fix if I could indeed confirm the error. His philosophy of not giving me a straight answer pushed me to read, think and discover beyond what I had in front of me. There was not a final solution given to me ahead of time so I had to learn to focus on the process, not the outcomes. What I first learned was the ability to think critically in order to find someone's mistake but at the end, what I took away as the most valuable lesson was how to contribute gracefully and humbly in the academic world. I got see the correspondence between Dr. Wheat and the original author of the publication which was respectful, objective and focus on contributing to the profession not one's fame alone. It should not about being right and better than others but about honest peer checking and shear interest development.
Another valuable experience I had through the program was getting to know Alan Roberts, my mentor. He had the technical knowledge and work ethic of someone I would look up to. But in addition to that, what I felt like the greatest lesson I learned from Alan, was his ability to stay focus and interested in the subject. Through months of working on the same paper, there was time when I wanted to move on and did something different. When I talked to Alan, he shared his sympathy, said he felt the same way and I knew that I wasn't alone. From that experience, I realized that being in graduate school would mean I no longer always know what I would be doing like in undergrad study. The discouragement was immense. Alan told me about his plan after he graduate which was the motivation that kept him moving forward. That reminded me of my own goals and reevaluated my plan for graduate school. Together with Dr. Wheat, Alan allowed me to work on my own and the complete freedom to distribute my time. I learned to work like a grad student, think like a grad student and stay motivated to be a successful grad student.
One thing I did right during the internship was staying in touch with my advisor and mentor, let them know what was going on with my life, academically and beyond. When I came to Dr. Wheat after a long discussion about the technical paper that I was reviewing for the research, I asked his advice about my plan to participate in Teach for America. To my surprise, he was more than enthusiastic to pursue a different experience about life being a teacher rather than rushing through graduate school. He told me about his bring up as a part of low-income community thirsty for knowledge, how he thought being a good engineer should also means being a good person, and how offered his help right away if there was something I need. Through that experience, I knew he had pure interest in my development as a student, a future engineer, and a person. I suddenly understood the greatest advantage that a grad student has over undergrad, the ability to really connect to someone who had been in their shoes before. I honestly believe that anyone can pursue a higher degree. I felt the same way when I spoke to Dr. Folliard for the interview exercise for the class; he came to love what he had been doing because he found the right inspiration at the right time. For me, this internship was probably one of the keystone experiences to find my inspiration. I learned that, for a good engineer, the outcome is not about getting the highest GPA, or graduating early, or getting the first job; it is realizing one's lifelong dream.
One thing that I wish I could have done better was getting further away with our project. It was challenging and fascinating at the same time. I did not move as far in the project as I wanted to but then I learned a much more valuable lesson of what real stress can be like to balance course work and research.
Overall, I have gained what I expected to gain and beyond from the program. It helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life after graduation. I will continue to take graduate courses in the spring after graduation because after the research project, I had a better idea of what area of focus I want to be in and I also obtain personal permission from the professor to take it. Not only it will allow me to shorten the amount of time I will spend once I get in the actual program, but also give me a head start when I work during the summer.