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.

Graduate students interested in research with me?

As you can see, I have a small but active program, with lots of opportunities. However, I don’t spend a lot of time hunting for money, so I don’t have a lot of funding. No open funded positions at the moment, but when I do get an opening there often isn’t a lot of time to find somebody, so please check back here now and then. I’m always happy to help students apply for the NSF Graduate Fellowship, and explore overlapping interests with self-funded students.

I prefer to work collaboratively with my graduate students on topics of mutual interest.¬† I expect my students to be self-motivated and own their research. I love to provide resources in the form of basics like equipment, space and funding (when possible). I also believe it’s important to provide introduction to the academic research community; how to proceed through the iterative research process, how to mentor others, and how to communicate with peers and the public. In return I want to make contributions to fun and useful research, and to learn from my students.

Since my program is small I can provide individual attention. My current students are spread across my interests, with not a lot of overlap, so we have separate weekly project meetings (most projects have undergrads assisting us) instead of a big group meeting.

If you like the sound of this, please contact me directly!