Advisers for University Research?

Two undergraduate friends of mine at the University of Rochester are looking for advisors. One of them is searching for someone in marketing or communications and to get credit for supporting the project I have been researching: ArmRay. The irony is that if ArmRay, as a product, was working fully now, we could find these people in a matter of seconds! Dr. Henry Kautz explained how ArmRay can potentially be great for undergraduate students who are curious about different topics to collaborate on, especially if they might not have a deep enough understanding about the topic to know where to search.

My friend, who has a decent understanding of his course of study, might be curious about a few things like artificial intelligence or writing music. There are many professors that do research in artificial intelligence, many more in music and language processing, but which one is actually working or starting to work on a project related to the right combination of topics?

Research faculty often keep projects in the beginning somewhat secret and other times this information is not found on a website. Generally, on the website, there are published research papers, classes they teach, and topics they are interested in. The problem is that topics are general and at any given time there are different combinations of any topic with other topics. Research is always a very specific thing. So what do people usually do? Just go by word of mouth and sometimes email. I have, sadly, seen students sometimes just follow whatever comes their way as research opportunities to avoid these problems.

The way I see it is that there are too many important and amazing topics out there to be researching and some research is just not very good. We have to do what is closest to our hearts and at the same time be selective. When I was an undergraduate I felt the process of searching for an advisor was too time consuming. There is no way to know about their current interests.

Just because a faculty member did research on social network graphs 10 years ago, does not mean they will still be doing it now. After that you have to find out how they like to work. Some people are more into applied and some more into theory. I wanted to do research on what motivates creativity but most of the faculty were interested in theory, like doing several types of surveys. I wanted to do something considerably more applied, while working with people as a group. I did not care about discovering which person happened to have the right combination of factors influencing his job/life and making him or her more creative. I am curious but I also honestly don’t believe we can accurately predict these things, especially in a world where people’s personalities are becoming more complex. What happens from day to day changes a lot. This is my belief. I wanted to actually be helping people as I discovered. My discovery would also be relevant to a situation I was familiar with and not relevant to a very random group of people. I also wanted to work with industry. This is my preference.

We all have certain preferences, for instance one of my friends doesn’t want to work with a start-up in his topic of interest but is curious about larger companies, while the first friend I mentioned obviously does. I was lucky to find a professor, Edward Deci, who supported my passion. Edward Deci does not usually do applied psychology and so it does sometimes work. I also knew him from a humanistic class I took where a lot of my class writing was about my research on the topic I wanted to work with him on. It is difficult to go to several faculty who say that they are not interested and then start talking about their own projects more. You almost feel like just giving up and do what might be easier: follow the progressing project you know about already.

As research opportunities go, we don’t know what we are missing,until we see them. I have been researching ArmRay for a long time now and I want to support the field of research and development. It is the very basic foundation of having enough resources like food, water, economics, and researching the information that will make the world a better place.

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