Research Next Summer – An Option for Me?

Not everyone does an internship during their summers - conducting research in your field is also a great option.  There are two types of research that Olin students can participate in, and this article will take a look at why you might want to do research, what the options look like and tips for the application process.

First, why would I want to do Research instead of an internship?

Some students like to do a mix of internships and research during their summers.  Others deliberately pursue research experiences because they know they are grad-school bound, and are interested in digging deeper into a particular technical area, learning from professors and grad students, and building upon the coursework and project experiences they have done at Olin.  Having research on one’s resume is a great signal to a graduate school program that you are serious about pursuing a graduate degree of some kind in your chosen field.  Additionally, doing research in a traditional institution is a good idea if you are considering pursuing a PhD.  It’ll allow you to get a glimpse of life as a grad student, and will help you figure out if conducting research and being in school for the next four or five years is something you might enjoy. 

Research at Olin

This option is quite popular with students, often in their first or second year, who want to live and work on campus for the summer. In summer 2016, we had about 50 students conducting research with our faculty. To start the process, it is a good idea to talk to professors with similar interests to yours and find out if they will be doing research in the coming summer. Although many faculty will not know if they have funding until next semester, they will likely know the areas of research they will be working on and how many people they may need.

Summer 2016

Let’s take a peek back at some of the projects from last summer….

Adaptive Blind Sailing Research Team
Faculty Advisors:
Alex Morrow, John Geddes, Paul Ruvolo
Student Researchers:
Rachel Yang, Mary Keenan, Rebecca Jordan, Kaitlyn Keil

“We collaborated with Community Boating Inc. out in Boston, MA, as well as with the SailBlind community, to improve upon an autonomous system that allows blind sailors to match race one on one without needing sighted guides. Most of our summer was spent conducting on-land tests with the blind sailors to generate feedback on our developing prototypes, and going out on the water with the sailors to gain sailing experience, and to get a sense of what environment they would be in when using our system. This video shows a glimpse of those two experiences.” ~ Rachel Yang

Quantitative Engineering Analysis (QEA)
Faculty Advisor:
Mark Somerville
Student Researchers:
Harper Owen, Margaret Crawford, Isabel Harrison, Emily Kohler, Eric Miller, Gwyneth Phelps

The curriculum at Olin is always evolving.  Students were able to actively participate in refining and re-inventing what the QEA experience would look like in the fall of 2016.

"The QEA experiment is a designated alternative for Signals and Systems, Dynamics, Linearity 1 and 2 and a foundational physics course; our hope is this experiment will lead to a more coherent ‘analysis stream’ down the road.” ~ Mark Somerville

3D Printed Anatomy for Radiation Therapy Applications
Faculty Advisor: Chris Lee
Student Researchers: Uma Desai, Max Dietrich

“We completed the design and fabrication of a prototype treatment-planning and quality-assurance phantom for radiotherapy of prostate cancer. The phantom consists of a pelvic base; a removable cylindrical canister; a solid-model, imaging insert which was created from the CAT images of a specific patient. After a radiation treatment plan is executed on the phantom, the spatial energy distribution and dosage is verified and validated by dosimetry from the radiographic film. Testing is currently being carried out by the CyberKnifeTM System at Boston Medical Center.” 

Computational Simulation of an Enhanced Vibration Energy Harvester
Faculty Advisor: Chris Lee
Student Researchers: Andrew Pan, Willem Thorbecke

“We performed finite element simulations to validate experimental results from power-generation testing of an energy harvesting device that converts ambient mechanical vibration into electricity. The working principal of the device is a based upon internal resonance-a nonlinear dynamic response in which vibration modes of a structure can couple when their natural frequency ratios occur as integer multiples.”

Measurement of Viscoelastic Material Properties of Low-Concentration Agarose Gels
Faculty Advisor: Chris Lee
Student Researcher: Linnea Laux
“We measured viscoelastic shear (storage and loss) moduli of low-concentration agarose gels using a new hyper-frequency viscoelastic spectroscopy instrument. This non-contacting optical method is especially well suited for soft materials that can be deformed by constraint fixtures. Techniques learned here will be applied to measurements of human tissue (e.g., prostate, liver) to acquire parameter values for finite element constitutive models.”


What’s An REU? 

Hint: ‘Research Experiences for Undergraduates’

Two quick notes:

  • PGP will be hosting an REU Party Wednesday, December 7 from 12-1 in CC 213. This will be a working session where you can learn more about REU’s and begin to apply.  Please bring your computer. We will also have REU Alumni available to help guide you through the process. Please email Suzanne if you would like to attend.
  • Sorry, REUs are for US citizens or permanent residents only.

REU positions are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and take place at institutions all over the country. Most applications open on December 1, with deadlines in late February or early March. To look up what programs have received funding from the NSF, click here.  Once you determineprograms that look like good matches, you may want to search on the individual university websites to gain more information. As part of the application process, students must fill out a form for each REU they apply to and acquire at least 2 signed and sealed letters of recommendation (please allow 2-3 weeks for faculty to complete these), your official transcript and a statement of interest (limited to 2 pages) on why you would make a successful researcher for the specific program.



Halley Pollack-Muskin presenting her findings during the Nanotechnology REU @ UIUC


Suggested timeline for REUs:


  • Begin Thinking about where you want to live, what you want to work on
    • Narrow by location
    • Narrow by Program
    • Narrow by where you want to go to Grad School
    • Make list of programs you are interested in and check their websites regularly
    • E-mail professors at other institutions about their research so you can get an idea of the programs you want to apply for.  (Alumni and PGP can help you find these people)

Winter Break:

  • Apply for 8-10 REUs 
  • Remind Olin Profs about letters of recommendations

Important Dates:

  • Jan. 1 – first rounds of due dates
  • Feb. 15 – 2nd round of Due dates
  • March 1 – 3rd round of Due dates

You could start hearing back from the programs as early as February.  Don’t fret though, mid to late March is also reasonable. 

Options other than Research

Research may not be for everyone, but don’t despair if you have not figured out what to do for summer 2017. There will be two more Career Fairs in February (February 8 and February 15) and one with Babson on April 12. There will also be lots of company info sessions and tech talks.

Another option to consider is working on campus for one of the Administrative Offices. PGP and several other departments will be posting their openings during the spring semester.

Posted in: From the Staff