Undergraduate research at UCLA (Apr 2018 post)

posted May 1, 2018, 9:59 AM by TIMOTHY FISHER   [ updated May 1, 2018, 4:48 PM ]
A big change in university research over the past few decades has been the growth of undergraduate research. Historically, engineering undergraduates' time was consumed with a heavy course load of required classes with intense homework (and occasionally laboratory) exercises during the academic year, and most students went home for the summer, usually hoping to find work in a pre-engineering function with a local company. In the late 1980s, the US National Science Foundation started its "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" (REU) program, which has now proliferated across the country. I was fortunate to participate in one of the early REU sites at the Cornell Theory Center in the summer of 1989, and it gave me invaluable insights into academic research, ultimately leading to my decision to pursue graduate studies and a faculty career. Today, the NSF REU program has scores of formal "REU Sites" that seek to provide (mostly) summer research opportunities for students across the country. Here at UCLA, we have four REU Sites -- in math, physics, nano chemistry, and wireless technology. 

In my faculty career, summer undergraduate research has led to some of our lab's most prolific researchers. For example, current PhD student Yuan Hu started as an undergraduate researcher in a joint BS-MS program between Purdue and Shanghai Jiaotong University. Other alumni from our undergraduate researchers include:

At UCLA, the process for finding a project that matches student interest has been made much easier with the development of the centralized Undergraduate Research Portal. Here, students can find dozens of open research project descriptions for both the summer and academic year. My group is starting to populate the portal with new topics that will also be highlighted on this web site -- watch for them if you are interested!