This summer the Department of Mechanical Engineering launches its innovative CREATE-U program, which provides participating students with paid lab research experience paired with instruction on research fundamentals. Originally set to launch the summer of 2020, the program was put on hold due to COVID-19.
The program is intended to give students a taste of what research really is, both in the academic world and in the private sector. On this theme, the 2021 program opened with an online keynote speech by alumnus Eric Pospisil, who completed both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at UBC, and currently works as the Head of Engineering at MTM Robotics. As well as providing his story and tips for entering the world of research, he described research as “non-linear and often creative process” encouraging students to find topics they were excited about and follow their curiosity.
Unlike other undergraduate research opportunities, CREATE-U matches undergraduates with projects that fit the interests and curiosities they express in the application process, and participants are paired with a graduate student mentor in from the related lab to guide their experience. Students will be working on a wide range of projects, including teaching robots through augmented reality, a virtual reality headset that tracks eye movements, understanding the brain’s response to mechanical trauma, building an air quality instrument system to be used by a drone, and more.
Besides being paid research experience with a working lab, the two technical electives participants take over the summer will give them skills most graduate students have to learn on the fly; MECH 497 Research Skills and Data Analysis teaches them how research is done and what to do with the information they collect, and MECH 498/500C Research Communication introduces the tools of scholarly writing. The courses are designed to work together, building off each other on topics like research funding and grant-writing. In the research communication course, students will write about their research project, eventually creating a conference poster they can take to UBC’s Multi-disciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC).
This year, CREATE-U will be a hybrid of remote and in-person lab experiences, but despite the hurdles of the pandemic it aims to give undergraduate students a window into what graduate school is like before taking the plunge, as well as help them develop their resumes with unique skills and experiences.