Feature from UROPer Zhang Zhexian

Photo caption: Zhexian (left) with her UROP supervisor Dr. Dang Thuy Tram (right)

How do you think you have benefited from participating in a UROP project?

New or Niche

“I so love it”

I had a hard time choosing my UROP project – from over hundreds of topic listings, every single one of them sounds exciting. Should I explore a new field or develop what I have experience in?

The professor I chose to be my mentor said to me, “Although it is interesting to do something totally new, it would be more fulfilling to discover and develop your niche, the subject that you have a strong foundation in. This will result in a shorter adaptive (input) period but a longer creative (output) period, which lead to more time for deep research and higher chance for breakthrough findings.”

Errors or Arrows

The golden rule is “Ask when in Doubt; Never Assume”. Even though we should prevent making careless mistakes, there are many other so-called “mistakes” that are invaluable in science research – negative results that reduce the candidate pool, and unexpected positive outcome that becomes a new discovery itself. So keep making “mistakes” and keep trying!

What advice would you give to your peers or juniors who want to take up UROP?

“I so love it” (Passion)

Love keeps us going when everything stops moving.

 “Freedom oh freedom” (Independence)

There is flexibility for you to decide short term goals and deadlines but the freedom should not be taken for granted. Instead, work independently and proactively while frequently checking with supervisor for guidance.

 “None of us is as smart as all of us” (Teamwork)

In UROP, it is likely that you will only be doing a part of the entire project. My advice is to know as many people involved in the project as early as possible. Not only will you benefit from seeing the big picture, you will also receive crucial help from other researchers who are working on the area you have trouble with.

Among all, most importantly, you should develop a strong friendship with your mentor. A mentor-student relationship lets you share your ambitions, challenges, and gives you new perspectives long after the research period is over. Personally I would like to express my deep gratitude towards my mentor Dang Thuy Tram, who taught me not only technical skills, but academic, career and life lessons that will benefit me all my life. Thank you!

Feature from UROP Supervisor Asst. Prof. Rob Simpson

Photo caption: UROP Supervisor Asst. Prof. Robert Simpson

In your opinion, what are the benefits of students participating in a UROP project?

“Practical experience provides an opportunity to directly apply the knowledge gained from the undergraduate courses to real scientific problems..”

I remember from my undergraduate days, where we were encouraged to gain experience in research labs, that there was a statistically significant increase in grades after students spent time working in a research lab. Practical experience provides an opportunity to directly apply the knowledge gained from the undergraduate courses to real scientific problems, and I think this can be motivational. Last semester, we had a UROP project to design, build, and program a new piece of scientific apparatus to measure the activation energy of phase transformations in composition spread films. The project required knowledge from a broad range of SUTD's 1st year courses- especially “The Digital World”, the "Advanced Math”, and "Engineering in the Physical World". In fact Yu Han, who was working on the project, deliberately decided to use Python as the language to perform the data analyses because he could supplement the skills he was simultaneously learning in the “Digital World” course.

UROP also provides a risk free environment for students to try out their practical problem solving skills and gain work experience. If the project goes well, then the student gains new experiences, gets to play with some expensive cool toys (errr.., I mean scientific equipment), has fun, and hopefully publishes a real scientific paper. The advisor gets to work with an enthusiastic student who will help the research group get results to prove an idea that could be used in a journal paper, or could be the basis of a future grant proposal.  In addition, UROP students in the ACTAlab (www.actalab.com) work closely with PhD students and postdocs, and this provides a further learning experience as well as insight into academic life. All in all, both the UROP student and the advisor have nothing to lose, yet they can both gain a lot. It seems like the perfect investment!

Want your UROP project to be featured here?  Write to us @ urop@sutd.edu.sg stating your email title as “Feature”