Successful Summer for Student Researchers in MSU ACRES

TUESDAY, August 29th — This summer, eleven undergraduates participated in the first Advanced Computational Research Experience (ACRES) at Michigan State University (MSU) and  presented their research at the annual Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences (Mid-SURE). This was a crowning moment for many students as they described to MSU faculty, mentors and peers attending the poster (and oral) presentations what they had accomplished in just under ten weeks of working with their research teams.

Several students made significant contributions to their research groups and their mentors expected them to be listed as co-authors in forthcoming papers. For example, Alexander McKim, working with Dr. Andrew Finley in the Geospatial Lab, co-authored the current release of the spNNGP R package on CRAN . Alex is a rising senior studying computer science, Economics and Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University. Commenting on the program's impact on his student Dr. Finley says:  “I think this experience opened his eyes to the level of mathematical and computational rigor in applied fields…[and] to see how his skills could be put to work on a variety of real-world problems.” Other mentors in the program noted that students were now considering careers in applied fields such as computational astronomy, nuclear physics and public health. Early assessments conducted by Dr. Audrey Rorrer at the Center for Education Innovation at UNC Charlotte, indicate that students made significant gains in the areas of self-efficacy and research skills.

To see all of the posters from the participants in the ACRES program please visit: https://icer-acres.msu.edu/people/student-participants/

We caught up with a few students at the end of the program to hear just what they thought about their time at MSU and the work they had done.

Susanna, a rising junior at the University of Maryland, applied to the ACRES program because she was interested in the intersection between computer science and biology. This Summer at MSU was her first research experience.  She worked with the Shade Lab to investigate the diversity and abundance of arsenic (As) resistance genes in soil microbiomes. Exposure to unsafe levels of As in drinking water can lead to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and understanding how As-resistant genes work can help to address this public health issue. Her work this summer involved using cutting-edge bioinformatics programs to analyze large data sets of genomes. In addition to the research itself, Susanna says she “enjoyed learning  about what the life of a grad student is like and what it’s like to get a PhD and do research.” She says: “the experience helped me to clarify whether I wanted to go to grad school in the future... I also enjoyed getting to know other students who were interested in working with computers in other fields.”

Before entering the ACRES program this Summer David, a rising senior at Texas State University studying computer science, says he “wasn’t even sure what a supercomputer was.”  After 10 weeks of working with the O’Shea group on simulating the velocity structure and dynamics of the gas that surrounds galaxies to better understand their role in galactic development, David confidently says “not only did I learn a lot of Python but I know how to use a supercomputer.” When asked about the impact these 10 weeks made on his career plans he says: “before this program, I had an idea through word of mouth but had never gotten my hands dirty with actual research...after this program there’s no question. I’m deadset on doing grad school...I feel I’d be more happy doing grad school rather than jumping into industry.” He calls the Summer experience “illuminating” and recommends that students coming into the program “keep an open mind … you might encounter something unexpected.”

Susanna’s advice to future students is: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You don’t have to know everything in the beginning because they [mentors] are here to help and support you. [Also] ask questions about their work and life and how they got where they are now because it will help you to understand what you want to do in the future and how to reach those goals.”

The ACRES program is funded by the NSF and DoD (ACI - 1560168) and benefits greatly from the service afforded by the MSU faculty, graduate students and postdocs who mentored undergraduates this summer. Applications for Summer 2018 open in October 2017. Please visit https://icer-acres.msu.edu  for the latest updates.

 

Article by: Camille Archer
Photo by: Xiaoxing (Adele) Han