Spring semester is here! We’re almost done with week 4 of the semester, and it’s been great getting back into the swing of things, seeing friends again after winter break, and making new memories exploring LA. With every new semester, though, comes new challenges, new classes, and new projects to work on. At the end of this week, I’m presenting to my research group on my project for the semester, so I thought it’d be a great time to write about my experience in undergraduate research at USC!
Being able to do research as an undergrad was a huge part of my college decision. Though some schools are great research institutes, I wanted to attend a university where I could be involved in research starting my freshman year, working in a lab and gaining new skills each year. Thankfully, Viterbi helps me achieve both goals, allowing me to attend a great research institute where I can participate in research my first year and beyond.
(That’s me doing research in high school!)
My first semester at USC, I was taking AME 101–Intro to Mechanical Engineering. The professor of the course was conducting interesting research on how turbidity of the ocean impacts the nitrogen fixation capabilities of microorganisms. As a mechanical engineering student with an interest in environmental engineering, this sparked my curiosity, and I went to his office hours to talk more with him about potential research positions in his lab. Amazingly, he was very open to the idea of having a first year undergraduate student work in his lab, and even had several undergraduates already conducting research.
At the end of my first year, as I was trying to decide what to do the summer after freshman year, I reached out to several environmental engineering laboratories studying water treatment to learn more about other opportunities available for undergraduate researchers in Viterbi. Just by searching online, writing a few emails, and meeting with professors for in person interviews and lab tours, I was able to find the lab that I’m still a part of today: the Smith Research Group.
That summer, I got amazing hands on experience working under a graduate student studying emerging wastewater treatment technologies. I learned how to use lab equipment, analyze data, and was even trusted to run my own mini-experiments once I was more comfortable in the position. Soon, I began helping on other projects in the lab, and learned a wide variety of practical skills that have helped me in classes, internships, and most importantly, in developing my own research interests. I was even able to create a poster for and present at the USC Undergraduate Research Symposium on research studying how the hydrophobicity of membranes impacts their filtration capabilities in wastewater treatment, where I received an award for the project.
I’m excited to say that this semester, as a junior in environmental engineering, I am working on an independent project studying the impact of membrane coatings in wastewater treatment technologies utilizing membrane filtration. There’s still a lot for me to learn, but I am very excited to be working with the Smith Research Group to create experimental plans, formulate ideas, run tests and experiments, collect and analyze data, and eventually share it with the engineering community.