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Advice on Research Experience

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

I'll try to keep it brief, but here's the gist of it:


Second semester freshman year I got into contact with some professors about working in their engineering labs to get some research experience. Everybody turned me down because I didn't know enough, except one professor who brought me in and said I could join their lab. I was really surprised at that point and really grateful. I still work in that lab (currently a Junior) and it's in the field of biomedical engineering. When I joined it I was just looking for any engineering lab, but having worked in there, I really began to enjoy biomed engineering and I decided that's what I wanted to do.


My current major is somewhat of an interdisciplinary engineering degree (Engineering Science and Mechanics), so I'm not actual in a biomed program, which means I have a lot of freedom. The thing I need advice on is that over the past 6 or 7 months I've gotten really into computer science and I added that as a minor this summer because I want to pursue a career in it. I've done tons of work on my own (way more than my current class) trying to catch up and exceed CS majors who have programmed for the last two years. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm working on it.


Now because of this, I'm looking at CS internships for this summer. I kind of want to get involved with a CS professor and his research or leave more time to program on my own. But at the same time I feel like I owe a lot to the professor and the lab (and definitely the two PhDs who have taken me under their wing since I started) because they gave me a chance and have let me do a lot. Think I should just stay working in there for the experience and references and do what I can in my own time to improve as a coder?



For those thinking tl;dr: Got a position in an engineering lab freshman year, wanting to pursue a CS career, should I stay working in the lab because they gave me a chance and it will still look good on my resume, or should I look for opportunities that are more closely related to my current interests?


Any advice would be much appreciated!

post #2 of 5
Be honest with the prof. and the Ph.D.s.
Tell them in person that you appreciate the opportunity/mentoring but you're set on CS. The fact that you're minoring in CS and have done the work to catch up demonstrates your keen interest in CS.

You say that you owe it to them but quite frankly undergrads take a lot more than they give. Undergrads require significant time to train and their output will rarely contribute to grants or papers. Depending on the institution, mentoring an undergrad may be worth a wee feather in the cap or not much more.

Would you want to spend time training someone interested in something else?

Good for you for getting involved so early. fing02[1].gif
post #3 of 5
I don't know what the lab does, but does it matter to the professor and others if you keep working in the lab yet change to CS, or is it just a problem of your own time investment into something which will never directly apply to CS?
post #4 of 5
Pretty much what HomerJ said. Nobody is going to be heartbroken to lose an undergrad, even a good one. Follow the opportunity that you think will benefit you the most, you really have no obligation to the biomed group.

As an aside, having engineering (especially the biomed) and CS experience should be a career goldmine.
post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the feedback guys. I really appreciate it.


I agree with what you guys have said. One of the PhDs is just about done with her thesis and the other one will probably be finishing pretty soon as well, maybe next summer at the latest. I'm considering working with them until they both finish and then finishing - but I'm not totally sure yet.


I've helped write some papers and done a few protocols on my own, but I haven't gotten paid or even credit for it, so I suppose that's in my favor if I decide to take a break.


They wouldn't have any problem with me changing I'm sure. Most of what I'm doing I learn on the job anyways, so not much would change there and I'm still taking my engineering classes anyways. The CS minor is an extra 18 credits over the next two years, but it won't affect my engineering classes. It's more the second aspect, having time to devote and the possibility that I become slightly more disinterested. I'll just mull it over and figure it out. Thanks!


But yes, I'm hoping the CS and engineering major help me either get into grad school or a start up upon graduation. We shall see..

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