Getting Involved in CS research
Research is a great way to get involved on campus to develop new technologies for a cause or project you are passionate about. You also get to develop good relations with professors and other undergraduate and graduate students who have similar passions.
Tips to Get Started
- Reach out to professors! A good way to get involved in research is to take the first step and reach out to professors. Before reaching out, make sure you explore your professor’s website (they usually describe their research online) to see if their work aligns with something you want to pursue. Many professors look for bright students like yourself to take up some of the tasks they need to get done as part of their project. By working on their projects, you’ll get exposure to solving real world problems with your technical skills while also gaining insights into new tools and technologies.
- Go to office hours! There is no better way to know what research your professor is working on than to actually meet them in person. Utilize this time to ask questions about the research that they are focusing on or what kinds of skills they look for in students who want to participate in research.
- Send an email! If you want to be able to connect to a professor, but don’t know their office hours, you always have the option of sending an email. This can be found in the school directory (directory.uci.edu) and you can initiate the conversation by sending an introduction about yourself and projects that you are interested in.
- Take advantage of your classes! Some classes at UCI (such as ICS 90) are dedicated to exposing students to new research opportunities at UCI. Make sure to follow through and reach out to the professors whose projects interest you. You can also talk to professors of your current courses if they are conducting research. Most professors will be open to taking new students under their wing.
- Actually read (or at least skim) those university emails! I was able to get one of my research opportunities by seeing a memo at the bottom of one of the regular university bulletins that mentioned a Professor looking for Undergraduate researchers, and I decided to read about his projects. I found one that really sparked my interest, and I went ahead and completed the application and coding assignment, and was accepted into the program. This opportunity opened so many doors for me, so before you trash those unread emails, it’s worth taking 30 seconds to skim them for opportunities!
- Apply to UROP programs like MDP and SURF-IoT. When you’re just one student in a 300-person classroom, it can be intimidating to reach out directly to your professor. If you’re *shy* like me, apply to a research project from UROP’s sponsored programs MDP and SURF-IoT. Applications for MDP open up in the Fall, and SURF-IoT applications open in the Spring. The process is similar to that of a job application. You submit your resume, interested roles, and a personal statement. And the best part? It’s completely online! No need to approach a professor after class. I applied to and got accepted in my first MDP project during my freshman year, so don’t let lack of experience intimidate you.
- Stay connected with the research mentors/program you participated in. Whatever research group you end up taking part of through the above programs, stay connected with them! Often then not they’ll have other research projects you can switch into. CalPlug, located in the 4th floor of Calit2, is a great research group to be involved in that has multiple projects you can join in on regardless of major (I recommend joining any project whose mentor is Dr. Joy Pixley *wink*). CalPlug also participates their projects in programs like MDP and UROP.
- Network with grad students. Grad students, just like Professors, often have the ability to involve undergraduates in their projects, but it’s not always something they’ll advertise. If you meet a grad student, ask them about their research, and if you’re interested in their project, don’t be afraid to let them know! I met a grad student at a conference that told me about an amazing project that I made clear was something I’d love to be a part of, and a week later she reached out and offered me a research assistant position. I’ve stayed involved in the project for over a year now, and I owe it all to that one conversation. Networking with Professors is great, but don’t forget about grad students and the amazing work they do as well!
- Research while studying abroad. Some study abroad programs are research programs! The experience is similar to conducting research back at UCI, but instead you’re in a different part of the world. Doing research abroad is a fantastic way to learn about and experience research that is conducted outside of UCI, the UC system, and the United States. Worried about language barriers? Some programs are specifically in English and don’t have a language prerequisite. UCEAP has a page on their website specifically for finding research abroad programs, which is a great place to start learning about the different options you have to conduct research abroad.
Research WICS Members Are Involved In
- I am currently working in Professor Stacy Branham’s INsite lab (INclusive Studio for Innovative Technology and Education). The lab focuses on developing accessible and universally usable technologies. The project I am currently working on is to build a Voice Activated Personal Assistant (like Siri, or Alexa) that can dynamically change its speech rate, pitch, and volume through voice commands in an effort to make it more accessible to blind users.
- In 2017, I worked with Dr. Mark Bachman as a SURF-IoT fellow. We collaborated with the Irvine Health Foundation to develop Iris: OC, an Amazon Alexa app that connects seniors with local health resources. In 2018, I married my passion for tech and music as an MDP fellow on Professor Mari Kimura’s project Mugic. I coded the firmware for Mugic, which is a motion-sensor wearable that musicians use to enhance live performance.
- I did research during my semester-long study abroad program at Tohoku University in Japan during the 2019 Spring Quarter. When I applied to Tohoku University’s JYPE program, I ranked three labs I wanted to join, from labs that research computer vision to labs that research bioinformatics. During the program, I joined the Omachi Laboratory and worked with Assistant Professor Miyazaki on a computer vision project. I was given a mentor, who is a Master’s student at Tohoku University, to work with me on the project. When I first started, I was given ramp-ups tasks to learn the basics of PyTorch and gain the background knowledge I needed to know to work on my project. At the end of the program, I presented to other study abroad students what I accomplished over the term.
- Last school year, I participated in UCI’s Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) where I was paired up to do research with CalPlug. This year I am continuing to do research with them but under a different project. I am currently working on their project to redesign a power management user interface which monitors a computer’s idle/sleep/on/off settings.
- I started out my research journey on a small team of three, working on a Global Warming simulation with NASA JPL. I helped transform the data collection and visual model into an interactive web-based game with 3D moving components. After a year on the project, I went on to contribute to research in teaching beginner-friendly coding concepts to underprivileged youth through Scratch, and helped analyze and evaluate their understanding of computational concepts through their projects and interviews. Lastly, I contributed to SANA, a global network alignment designed to align protein to protein interaction (amongst other things), and optimized the codebase to allow the previously Linux-exclusive code to work on any machine.
Contributors: Ana Sathish, Danielle Muhlenberg, Emma Anderson, Ellen Kim, Rebecca Leung, Melissa Torres
Editors: Dianne Ison
Graphics: Tiffany Nguyen