The Start to Clinic

Hey guys! This week I’m going to talk about my experience so far with Computer Science Clinic. (With pictures from my Clinic site visit.)

So, for those of you that don’t know, Clinic is a capstone project here at Mudd that is available and/or required for several majors here at Mudd. Each academic department oversees its own Clinic projects, but the overall shape of Clinic is that companies or other institutions (the national labs, for example) pay Mudd to have some of its students work on projects, effectively as research consultants, for a year. This generally takes the shape of Mudd students spending a year doing an experimental or exploratory project, at a high level of professionalism, which after the end of the year, the company may take further.

There are a lot of parts to Clinic, and we’re not too far into the year yet, so I’m just going to talk about some of the things that have happened for me so far!

My liaisons from Steelcase, Joe, Ed, and Mark.

First off, I’m a Joint Computer Science and Math major. I am required to do Clinic, however, I can either do Math Clinic or CS Clinic. This decision isn’t entirely up to me, however. The school tries to split CS-Math majors evenly between the two Clinics, but some preference towards CS Clinic is given to students who take CS121, sometimes referred to as “baby Clinic”. I took CS121, because I suspected that some of the CS projects would align well with my interests, so I did in fact end up with CS Clinic.

A picture of one of the spaces in Steelcase’s headquarters.

Once you are placed in a specific department’s Clinic program, that department’s Clinic director (currently professor Zach Dodds for the CS department) sends out an email with descriptions of the Clinic projects for the year. You then fill out a preference form, and potentially give some justification for projects that you put at high preference. Then, after a certain point, they use these responses and place students, generally in one of their higher preference Clinics, potentially barring cases where their preferred Clinic was in high demand.

Us out for dinner with the liaisons!

The major parties in a certain Clinic project are the Clinic team, which is composed of 4 or 5 students, the Clinic advisor (a professor), and the Clinic liaisons, who are representatives from the organization who provided your project who may guide you or provide feedback and progress or results of the project. My Clinic project is with Steelcase, a massive furniture provider, where we’re helping them implement some new systems in their factories.

The first day of our site visit we visited Steelcase headquarters, where they have a veeeery expensive ping pong table.

One of the big parts about starting up Clinic is the site visit! For the site visit, you take a trip, potentially anywhere in the country to meet with your liaisons where the problem you’re trying to solve exists, where the work gets done. In some cases, this might just mean flying to a company’s headquarters and getting a chance to talk with some engineers, and see what kind of work that they do, how they run things. In other cases, such as with my project, it may mean visiting a big factory, and getting a chance to really see where a piece of technology will fit into a larger system. It’s a really cool opportunity.

A view of just one part of the Steelcase factory!

A deliverable that kind of wraps up a lot of the work involved in the first part of Clinic is the statement of work. The idea behind the statement of work is that it’s a professional level document, describing the problem that you are facing in your clinic project, and the ways that you intend to approach it. In a significant way, it’s like a contract between the team and the liaison, and shows that the expectations are clear on both sides. Obviously plans aren’t set in stone, but the step of making the statement of work is important for showing a commitment to the project.

Joe showing us a sample of wood in different processing steps.

The final big part of the first phase of Clinic are project presentations. These are presentations that each team gives at some point in the first couple of months of Clinic, describing their goals and approaches for the project to other people working in Clinic. In many ways, it has a close relationship to the statement of work, but may involve more explicit discussion of research the team is doing and work that has already been done towards reaching project goals.

This machines puts the first layer of color-stain on raw wood.

And that really makes up the beginning of Clinic! My team is honestly still in the early stages, but the work that we’re going to be doing is really cool, and makes me excited for being part of Clinic. I should have more updates on the Clinic experience as the year progresses!