Research: the looming, nebulous topic that everyone seems to be talking about all the time. As an environmental engineer, I have been steeped in the frantic culture of “looking for research”, and I can confidently say that it was more stressful for me to hear about people looking for research than it was to find it myself. I am fortunate that environmental engineering research is not as competitive as other majors’ research, but at the same time, it took time for me to successfully find research myself.
Here at Viterbi, there are two ways to find research: CURVE and not CURVE. CURVE, or the Center for Undergraduate Research at Viterbi Engineering, is a program with applications in July to get research for a whole school year. Often, students choose to remain in the labs they get paired with for CURVE, so it’s definitely worth the short answer questions. WHen I applied for CURVE, my first choice was the McCurry Environmental Chemistry lab, and I’m so fortunate to have received the CURVE fellowship this year. I currently work in the lab, using platinum-charcoal catalysts to oxidize trace aldehydes in purified wastewater. I am having an AMAZING time, learning more about my major, about my future career, and gaining in-depth knowledge of laboratory techniques and scientific experimentation. It’s also helped me learn a pretty solid foundation of basic organic chemistry, which is definitely going to help me when I have to take that class.
The other way to get research is by simply emailing professors or TAs or watching out for emails from your professors and TAs about potential research. Last year, in my Intro to Environmental Engineering class, my TA sent us all a notice that an undergrad spot had opened up in the Smith lab. While I was focusing on other areas of my life at the time, I had a friend who took this opportunity and now works in the Smith lab! There are so many ways to get involved with research here at USC.
Ultimately, research is a really great way to learn more about your major and get hands-on experience in your field of interest. However, don’t think of it as a be-all-end-all. Research is cool and fun, yes, but not getting research doesn’t mean you’re going to fail at your degree. Take things at your pace, and if research doesn’t interest you that’s okay too!
The environmental engineering research here is what I can speak on: I have an amazing time, have met so many amazing people, and have learned so much in the last three months alone. I am excited to continue, and I hope that you will look for research experience here at USC as well!