Summer Research Q&A With the Bloggers!

Over the summer, three of us bloggers did research with Mudd professors. In this post, we discuss our experiences in a Q&A format. We hope that seeing multiple perspectives on the same question will give you a feel for the variety of ways that research happens at Mudd!

What was your research project?

Malia (Undecided, Class of 2023): “I worked in the Computer Science (CS) department as part of the CS Summer Staff. It’s a position where you get to work on improving the curriculum of CS classes, especially CS 5 (the frosh course).”

Andy (CS+Math, Class of 2023): “I worked with a professor in the Math department on a project analyzing various neural network techniques and their applications.”

Mason (Math, Class of 2022): I worked in the Physics of Soft Matter lab, studying the biomechanics of extreme organisms. In particular, I developed open-source software that can simulate the dynamics of latch-mediated, spring-actuated systems.

What was your day-to-day work?

Malia: “The CS department offered both CS 35 and CS 5 online this summer. While they were running, I offered tutoring hours each day. The rest of the time, I worked individually on projects like moving some of the CS 5 labs to jupyter notebook or rewriting the extra credit project in CS 35. About once a week I met with Prof. Dodds to discuss what was next!”

Mason: “My day-to-day work primarily consisted of writing MATLAB code. We knew the physical laws that governed the behavior of these organisms, and my job was to ensure that a computer program could accurately simulate that behavior based on the physics. Furthermore, I worked on designing my programs in such a way that someone with little programming experience could use the code to better understand biomechanics.”

Who did you work with?

Andy: “Most of my work was done individually or with my advisor, although I did sometimes collaborate with other Mudd students to work on algorithms together.”

Mason: “I worked with Professor Ilton in the physics department, and with fellow Mudders from various grade levels quite often.”

What was the application process like?

Malia: “The CS department sends out a common application in January, so I filled that out and applied for a couple different projects. CS Summer Staff was my first choice, and I got an email offering me the position in March.”

Mason: “The physics department also sends out a common application around the same time. I filled out that application to apply. However, I’d already established a relationship with my research professor before that, through a lab class I’d taken with them.“

How did your research diverge from your previous academic work?

Malia: “A lot of the work involved improving problems in CS 5, which was a class I took. It was really cool to work on the code behind the problems I’d done as a student.”

Mason: “My research was actually quite aligned with previous academic work I’d done. I’d done a lot of programming before, and I’d also written some programs to simulate physical systems in my Scientific Computing class. “

What was your favorite part of research?

Malia: “I felt like I had a lot more agency over my learning in research. It was pretty self-directed, so I could work on the projects that interested me. I learned how to use JavaScript and a couple of interesting python libraries!”

Mason: “My favorite part of research was the satisfaction of solving difficult problems that weren’t necessarily well-posed. Furthermore, I enjoyed using classroom knowledge to solve problems that were of interest in outside the classroom. “

How did being online affect your research plans?

Malia: “My research was originally supposed to happen at Mudd, in person. It was also supposed to involve setting up new computers/clinic spaces, which was not possible virtually. I ended up doing research from Missouri!”

Andy: “By the time I had agreed to work with this professor, Mudd had already gone online, so it didn’t affect things too much. All of my work could’ve been done remotely, so there wasn’t a huge difference other than the lack of an on-campus research environment.”

Has doing research changed your future plans?

Malia: “Before this summer I was pretty sure that I was going to be a physics major. Now I’m not quite sure if I want to do physics or CS!”

Mason: “Doing research has shown me what doing academic research is like, so I have a much better idea about what grad school would be, and whether it’s right for me.”

What’s something prospective students should know about research that didn’t get covered here?

Malia: “Research is not as intimidating as it might seem! I’d never done any before Mudd, but the professors really do work hard to make sure everyone has an opportunity.”

Andy: “If you can get a research position, it’s definitely not as challenging as it may seem! The professors will make sure you’re equipped with the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in your role, so definitely don’t worry about being underqualified.”