Three Minute Thesis: the academic elevator speech

Here’s how the classic business-oriented elevator speech has evolved in academia. I’m going to ask my students to give this a try. The idea is to communicate the essentials of your research project (or thesis) in three minutes, in a way that anybody can understand, but without ‘dumbing it down’. Quite a challenge, but definitely an essential skill. If you want, there are international competitions you can enter. It’s been done in physics here at CU.

Opportunities for Undergrads Interested in Research

Here in the Mechanical Engineering department at CU, there are many opportunities for undergraduate students to get research experience. Pretty much all of us professors have active research programs, and most of us welcome undergraduates to participate. If my projects don’t fit with your interests, don’t stop looking. On the department website you can find short descriptions of what each prof is interested in. They might also have an informative website, but don’t count on it. The best way to find out what a prof is doing is to ask them; make an appointment, say that you are interested in their work.

If you say you want to work with me, I try to find out what kind of experience you want so I can suggest projects to match. Some projects are hands-on design/build/test of a piece of laboratory apparatus for my fluids research or for the Flow Vis course. Some projects involve a bit of Matlab programming and/or data analysis from my research. A project might  be a literature survey on a topic of mutual interest, or might be interviewing other students and analyzing the results. Most projects are related to ongoing research, so you might be helping and be supervised by one of my graduate students. I’m also open to fluids-related ideas that you are passionate about. Whatever it is, I want a good match so you’ll be enthusiastic, self-motivated and dedicated.

Other things I look for in a research student:

  • Being a junior or a senior. This means that you have enough background in your discipline (whether it’s Mech Engin, some other engineering, filmmaking or whatever) to get started quickly. This is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule.
  • Having a partner or two lined up, with schedules similar enough that you can spend around 10 hours together per week, plus a short group meeting with me every week.
  • Being able to make a commitment to a total of 150 hours in a semester. Sometimes this can be spread out over more than a semester, and include part or all of summer. This means having a reasonable course load, and not a lot of other projects.
  • Production of a good final report. It will be due two weeks before the end of classes, so I have time to edit it and you have time for revisions.
  • I much prefer to work with CU students, with the hope that after I invest my time in you and get you trained up to be productive that you will want to stay on and work with me for more than one semester.

In return, you’ll get a taste of real research, including an experienced mentor (I’ve had over 150 undergrad researchers in my program), a great letter of reference for job applications, and maybe a research publication or two to put on your resume. You can also get either

  • 3 credit hours of Independent Study which will count as a technical elective in Mechanical Engineering. If this is in your plan, you’ll need to fill out the application form, get my signature, and get it to one of the ME undergrad advisors in time to register. Yes, it has to be typed, and we have to agree on the scope and methods.
  • OR
  • a bit of money. This is harder to set up, but I’ve been fairly successful helping CU students get funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) here at CU (but watch out, the deadlines are waaaaay in advance). Depending on the project, there might be other pots of money around for funding.

I usually have 3 to 6 undergrads working with me at any given time. I’ll be posting about specific projects in the future, so if you are interested, check back here now and then.

Not an accident!

Flow enters the right cardiac atrium from above and below, bringing wall generated vorticity with it.

Here’s the image I was trying to get before New Year’s. This shows flow entering the right atrium of a normal subject’s heart. Blood flow is shown by the white pencils. Vorticity (the amount of spin of a bit of fluid) is shown by the colored arrows. Only the strongest velocity and vorticity is shown here, to keep the image from getting too cluttered. The right atrium is shown in transparent white, and the right ventricle is the big triangular shape in yellow. Flow is entering the atrium from the top, through the superior vena cava (SVC). You can see vorticity ringing the flow, since it is being generated at the SVC surface. Flow up from the bottom, through the inferior vena cava (IVC), is more complicated. Venous (return) flow from the liver comes in and wraps around behind the main IVC flow from the lower abdomen. The two flows mix as they enter through the bottom of the atrium. This is useful, since you want all the important chemicals from your liver to mix with the rest of your blood before it gets pumped to your lungs and beyond. Too bad this type of imaging (4DMRI) can’t give more details about the mixing process.