PURE returns this semester, offers more for undergrads
The concept of doing research may be a daunting task for undergraduates, who typically have little technical experience. However, the Promoting Undergraduate Research in Engineering (PURE) program has been designed to give freshmen and sophomores a chance to work as mentee on a research project with a graduate student.
This program has been offered exclusively for several years to only ECE and CS students, but PURE President Siddhanth Munukutla said the program is expanding this year to include several graduate mentors from the Aerospace Department and hopes to continue expansion into Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering departments.
Also new for the program this semester is a longer time frame in which students will be able to work on their research projects. In past semesters, the program didn’t start until the third or fourth week of the semester and ended right before reading day. This year, with hopes of attracting more students, students will conclude their 12-week research project with a symposium a week before reading day. Munukutla hopes more people will be able to attend the symposium now, so that they can get a sense of what PURE is all about.
“PURE helps you better understand what your interests are and what you might still need to do,” Munukutla said. “A lot of people come in and say they want to do research, but most people have no idea what research is about. That is the best part of the program. It gives you a nice idea of what research is like, but it condenses it into 12 weeks.”
After the conclusion of the program, students can continue to do research with their research teams if they want. Shravan Gupta, a former mentee in PURE, continued his involvement with the project he worked on with mentor Jason Cho during the spring 2014 semester. Gupta was presented the award for best poster at the PURE symposium for his Android app designed to provide a preliminary medical diagnosis by means of urinalysis.
Gupta said the program helped him develop skills that he wasn’t learning in class, such as using Java in the context of Android app development. He also believes he gained research skills that can only be learned through application.
“The program develops independent learners, and requires students to be self-motivated in order to complete their projects,” Gupta said. “You have your own deadlines. You are responsible for the direction of your work. Learning how to research effectively, and translating your knowledge into something tangible and useful are the most important skills PURE teaches you.”
During the application process, students apply to work with the graduate student whose project interests them the most. After the deadline, graduate students will interview potential candidates to assemble their research teams.
Graduate student Jason Cho was Gupta’s mentor, and he believes that graduate students also get a lot out of the program. Cho, who has an interest in going into academia, said the program has given more comfort with teaching undergraduates.
“For the graduate students, it is a reminder that the research that they are doing could be a really exciting thing for a lot of people,” Cho said. “For me, at least, it has been a way to connect with undergrads.”
The program also gives ECE students one hour worth of credit for ECE 297, which can become a maximum of two credit hours if the students participate in the program for two semesters. CS and Aerospace departments also offer classes that give credit for being involved in PURE.
Munukutla, who was involved in the program himself, believes the project helped him expand his interests in the engineering field. Munukutla decided not to return to his project after his semester in PURE, and instead he wanted to explore the full scope of what ECE had to offer before he returned to research. However, he still believes that the skills he developed throughout his semester in the program would be invaluable to any undergraduate student.
“This program gives freshman and sophomores, who might not have any technical skills at all besides a basic sense of enthusiasm, an opportunity to start research early,” Munukutla said. “After this program is done, they can continue to work with the research group. Or with a better understanding of research, they can tailor their existing course work so they can get into another research group.”