What years did you participate in UROP?

I participated in the 2016-2017 school year

What UROP programs were you a part of?

The UROP Changing Gears Program, working on a Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies project. 

What made you choose UROP?

Gaining experience in research as an undergraduate was very important to me. I wanted to gain experience and build my research resume, but I also wanted to learn more about what an academic career path would be like.

What do you think you have learned from your UROP experience?

UROP participation was possibly the single most impactful experience of my entire undergraduate career. I learned first-hand how to design and conduct academic research. I was lucky enough to be exposed to the entire research process; from literature review to project execution, and on through paper publication as well.

In terms of the research itself, I was looking for a research mentor who either (1) was working on a topic that I was interested in, or (2) was using a research methodology that I wanted to learn about. In my case, the research method was agent-based modeling; I ended up learning about how this interesting research methodology could be applied in an area that was new and interesting to me!

Through UROP, I was able to work with my research mentor to design an agent-based model of a coupled human-natural system, and conduct simulation experiments using the model. We studied the effect that farmers' irrigation behaviors have on water supply (aquifer) sustainability and farmers' income. 

After the project was complete, we wrote an academic paper on the project. I was exposed to the entire writing process; I learned how to write an academic research paper, and gained experience in submitting and editing a paper for publication.

Along the way, through interacting with my research mentor and his colleagues, I began learning first-hand what a career in academic research 'looks like'. This was incredibly helpful to me in guiding the future goals that I set for myself.

What extent have you kept in contact with your mentor?

After UROP finished, my research mentor and I continued working together in order to publish a paper on the project which I assisted on. He has been incredibly kind and helpful in supporting my future endeavors - such as scholarship and graduate program applications. We have also kept in contact on a personal level too, and may work together again in the future. 

How did UROP shape or inform your next steps?

My experience in UROP showed me that with time and dedication I could actually make a career out of studying things that I'm interested in! I came from a background where university graduation is not the norm; this experience helped me build my skills and resume, but also helped to expand my horizons and learn more about what is possible.

I'm currently in a graduate program abroad, conducting research that is heavily informed by the agent-based modeling and simulation that I learned about in UROP. The exposure to academic research that I gained through UROP encouraged me to pursue my goal of becoming a research scientist. After this Masters degree program, I will be completing a PhD. Before UROP, these goals seemed daunting and unrealistic; today, progress towards these accomplishments is literally a part of my daily life.

What advice to current UROP student?

Take the opportunity to explore work that you're interested in, don't just do this for a resume "checkpoint"! Find a project that you're passionate about, or one that uses a research method that you're interested in learning more about. And keep an open mind! Even if your project role is small, in UROP you have the opportunity to take a clear step towards a research-focused career that means something to you. Ask questions! Get involved as much as you can!

What recent publications or accomplishments are proud of?

I've just finished leading a research project which uses agent-based simulation to test the suitability of current campus emergency response systems, and consider the potential of a variety of improvements to support improved outcomes in an emergency scenario. My group has published a conference paper on a preliminary version of this work ("Evaluating Aspects of WeChat Use for Information Sharing During a Campus Attack Event Using Agent-Based Simulation"; Beattie, Xi, Chan 2020), and we have just finished a submission draft for a journal paper which presents the full project.

Advice for current or future UROP students

For future UROP students... UROP is a unique program that provides invaluable support and mentorship to students interested in research. As an undergraduate, this chance can be uncommon. If you have an interest in graduate school or a career in research, take the opportunity!!

Again, don't let the UROP experience pass you by, and don't do it "just to get it done." Consider the kinds of projects that are meaningful to you, or the research methods that you're interested in, and do your best to communicate your interest and dedication to potential mentors. If you have a relevant background (past classes, etc) it will help - but what they really want to see is someone who is genuinely interested in their work!! Skill can be improved; motivation and interest is critical.

No matter how big or small your project role, in UROP you have the opportunity to step into the role of a research scientist. Once you've found a project that is meaningful to you, do your best to get involved as much as possible. You won't regret it!