Sophomore Projects | Arnav Pandey
Hi, I am Arnav Pandey, a Junior Undergraduate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. You are not alone if you find yourself lost in thoughts and confusion of "what ahead!". If you are here, you might be contemplating on how to best utilize your upcoming summers. With this piece, I aim to tackle just that.
I did my SURGE Internship 2022 in my department itself, and I am currently doing a research project at the SMSS Labs, IITK. Of these two projects, the former was based on building a soft-robotic continuum manipulator, and the latter is based on building a Variable Stiffness Actuator (VSA). I will talk about my experience and the application process while answering various questions throughout this blog.
Why a Research Project?
If you are currently in your first or second year, you might get overwhelmed with the number of different things you can do in your summers to utilize your time well. During my first year, I remember watching an AnC video about a senior Samvit Kumar from the Y13 batch, who graduated from Aerospace Engineering at IITK and went on to do his PhD at John Hopkins University. In that video, he talked about how he requested a Professor to allow him to stay back during his first-year summers to assist him on a simple project, and this helped him a lot in the long run. This served as a prime source of motivation for me. Moreover, many of us are in a dilemma whether to go for a corporate job or to continue our studies after our undergraduate programme. Thus, having a research experience in your second year helps you to make this decision and also allows you to experiment with a corporate internship in your third-year summers. Apart from this, having a "Research Intern” on your CV benefits you when applying for a third-year summer internship, be it corporate or academic.
This is the point where most of us are stuck but let me clear up a couple of things. First, the domain in which you do the project in your second year need not be the one in which you work for the rest of your lives. Secondly, no professor expects you to have a publication by your name in your second year itself, and they all want the students to learn and appreciate the area in which you work. Moving on, you might have gained some exposure during your SnT projects or working with some club otherwise, and you can choose these as a starting point. Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience at all; you can go through professors’ research interests and read about them to find the areas which interest you. I’d suggest you to maintain a google sheet with the following headers :
Prof Name, Research interests, Contact details and Status ( i.e. has a meeting been scheduled or whether the prof. has replied or not)
Once you start receiving replies, have patience and select the one that interests you the most. It is not necessary that you begin working with the professor who replies to you the earliest.
First, you need to start mailing the professors as early as late December to the beginning of January so that you have multiple opportunities to compare and choose the best one for you. Moreover, if you delay the application process ,then even if the professor likes your application he might be curbed due to logistical constraints because the professor has taken enough students already. Now talking about the LORs, you need to simply write a mail to professors who took the courses in which you were able to score *good* grades (preferably A/A*, but don’t shy away from asking for it even if you scored a lower grade). Apart from this, if you have worked in a team or club which has a faculty advisor, then try asking your team heads/club coordinators to help you get a LOR from that professor. If you don’t receive a reply after a sufficiently good period of time, then you can try writing a reminder email, and if that doesn’t work either, then you can surely go and meet the professor in person.
My work in the Summers ’22 helped me appreciate the beauty of mechanical engineering (which earlier I thought to be a pretty dry department, tbh). Playing around with Pneumatic Regulators and being in an area surrounded by machines was a really great experience overall.
I would like to end by saying that you might be stuck at some point in the project, and then leaving it will seem the best option but trust me, regularly discussing the bottlenecks of the project with your supervisor will help you produce fruitful results. For getting motivated, you can remember how Barca made a UCL comeback against PSG in 2017 ( yes “Mes que un club” lol).
Feel free to reach out to me over social media handles and I will try my best to help.
All the best!